The Trains – The Trains – FDW Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  If you are seeing this post through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

In several previous Beerchaser posts, about my wonderful Dad, I mentioned the Lionel Trains that he used to acquire in the 1950’s from his good friend who managed the Toy Department in Cincinnati’s Shilitos Department Stores.

Dad built large train tables in our basement where we had expansive layouts to display the trains and run them to our hearts’ content.   We spent hours in the basement doing that – when it was not flooded with sewage because of a municipal infrastructure flaw.

I chronicled this part of the story in this same post including FDW’s dramatic appearance in front of the City of Madeira City Council.  That’s when he testified – walking up front carrying a large bag which he unveiled to reveal a bucket of raw sewage which filled the Council Room with pungent odors for the rest of the meeting.

The family has kept these trains throughout the sixty years since we last had them set up in Ohio.  They have been stored and occasionally admired and moved across the country.  Thanks to my brother-in-law, Dave Booher, who inventoried them, took photos of many of them and reminded me that he and his wife are paying storage fees for them……

Dave Booher – outstanding brother-in-law who has absorbed storage fees for twenty + years……..

I’ll devote this post to the Lionel trains including photos of those beloved “toys!”  I say “toys”, because Dad used to buy them throughout the year and save them for Christmas Day when we would always get at least one new engine and the cars that came with it in addition to accessories such as a coal loader or water tower and infrastructure such as bridges and switches.

Being too young to fully appreciate the craftsmanship in these authentic replicas of the real thing, we were always more interested in presents such as baseball bats, bicycles, etc.  As we got older, however, we realized that when we opened these wrapped trains, that FDWs’ eyes would light up like a kid’s on Christmas morning….  As it states on the Lionel Corporation website:

“Soon Dads too were encouraged to join Youngsters in model train enthusiasm, to further father-son bonding. With growing prosperity, Lionel’s layouts cropped up in more living rooms, especially at Christmas.”

A Little History

(Note:  External photo attribution is at the end of the post.  All of the pictures in this post of actual trains and accessories are from those we still have in storage.)

Over a century of craftsmanship…..*1

Lionel was founded by Joshua Lionel Cowen who founded Lionel Manufacturing Company in the heart of New York City in 1900.

“During Lionel’s early days, Americans were captivated by the railroads and awed by electricity, still a rarity in many homes. Lionel’s first trains were powered by wet-cell (acid-filled!) batteries, soon replaced by the 110-volt electric transformer. By 1906, with the introduction of preassembled track and a selection of engines and cars, the Lionel we know today was already taking shape.”

The history of the Lionel Corporation could be a great PBS documentary and it thrived through the early to mid-20th century, but after 1970, is filled with corporate reorganizations, lawsuits for copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation and in 2006, Lionel filed for bankruptcy from which it emerged in 2008. 

*2

For example, it became a holding company of General Mills in 1970:

“….due to General Mills’ cost-cutting measures, production of Lionel-branded toy and model trains returned to profitability, but sometimes at the expense of quality. Detail was often sacrificed, and most of the remaining metal parts were replaced with molded plastic….

The year 1982 brought General Mills’ poorly received move of train production from the United States to Mexico. Some Lionel fans were angry simply because the trains had been made in the United States for more than 80 years, while others criticized the quality of the Mexican-produced trains. Lionel production returned to the United States by 1984.”

One wonders if it learned from past errors, however, as it outsourced its manufacturing to China and Korea in 2001 and Viet Nam in 2021.

And our O-gauge trains were not cheap plastic.  They were solid and built to last – diecast with a metal alloy that was a combination of recycled aluminum, zinc and magnesium.  There was no lead and they didn’t rust.  In 1973, Lionel started producing the smaller HO gauge and plastic train products.  

Engines and Trolleys

The engines and self-contained units such as trolleys were the highlights.   The detail and quality made these 1950’s “toys” into collectors’ items. The engines would whistle and blow their horns and the steam engine shown in the bottom slide below would actually produce smoke.

Accessories and Infrastructure

The accessories were always fun because they gave a sense of realism to the layout that would not be attained by just watching the trains go around the track.   A perfect example was the barrel loader:

“The Barrel Loader No. 362 was introduced in 1952 (when Thebeerchaser was four years old….!) and was available until 1957. This was another of those vibrating accessories. In this case, a vibrator placed beneath the metal ramp would, when activated, move the barrels up the ramp where they would be loaded into a car waiting on the track.

Another example was the Culvert Loader which was more sophisticated: 

“An optical beam senses when a culvert gondola is present, automatically triggering the hazard lights on top of the conveyor, followed three seconds later by the light in the watch tower!.”

And my final example – the Icing Station.  As Lionel stated:

“Keeping perishable freight cool was a tough job before the days of mechanical refrigeration. Watch as the figure pushes the ice cubes from the chute down to the awaiting Ice car (sold separately). Position the Ice car at the platform and load it up.”

The train layout was always enhanced with the authentic neon (cardboard) signs and items such as train stations, oil derricks, water towers and bridges.

Compare the quality and durability of the tracks, switches and infrastructure with what is typically available today.

P1000600 (1)

Box Cars, etc.

We would load up the sturdy engines with box cars, cattle cars and specialty cars that carried everything from logs, cattle and electric transformers to search lights, airplanes and boats.

“….The newest feature on the 3520 Rotating Searchlight Car is a remote-control operated on-off switch. This switch allows the operator to activate Lionel’s ‘Vibro-motor’ which in turn begins rotating the searchlight lens.” 

And what better way to end the photos of our partial train inventory than with a caboose! 

“The 6417 caboose is a nice caboose with good detail. Standard features include: painted bodies and lettering, illumination, bar-end trucks with a single operating coupler, plastic end railing detail on each end plus plastic brake-wheels and roof ladders.”

Now I suppose we, at one time as many collectors, thought, “We’ll save these trains because they keep getting more valuable and we’ll sell them for thousands of dollars after we no longer want them.”

Well, like many collectables such as Hummels, cameras, Beanie Babies and old records (I  used to have a slew of my Dad’s old 78 RPMS from the Great Band Era.…), just because something is old doesn’t mean it keeps appreciating or even retains its value.   

Photo Apr 23, 1 50 16 PM

FDW’s 45 and 78 RPMs albums

For example, the caboose shown above is listed on e-bay from $18.94 to $55.  The impressive engine shown at the start of the post, which was only manufactured for two years, (1956-8) would go for around $450.  And our family trains got a lot of wear which decreases their value. According to one collectors’ resource:

“Buyers truly want all-original trains that have never been tampered with. Once the originality has been compromised, prices take a steep turn downward from their original counterparts. Pricing is always subjective among buyers and sellers. Today’s train market is increasingly becoming a buyer’s market due to that supply and demand.”

That said, I’m not sure that we could get rid of our trains anyway and maybe we’ll let our kids have that honor…… They made FDW and us happy for many years and now just looking at them, we know that although the company changed hands many times, the name is still identified with quality.

And finally we can take comfort in the fact that according to Wikipedia:

“In 2006, the Lionel electric train was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, along with the Easy-Bake Oven. It was the first time an electric toy had ever been inducted.”

A co-inductee into the National Toy Hall of Fame! *3

External Photo Attribution

*1  Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lionel-Logo.png)  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  Author:  Lionel, LLC – 17 July 2019.

*2  Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lionel_Corporation_Logo.jpg)  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  Author:  Zachary578 – 17 February 2015.

*3  Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_first_three_versions_of_the_famous_Easy-Bake_oven.jpg)  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author:  Bradross63 – 26 February 2015.

FDW – Part III – Don’t Go with the Flow!

Brother Garry and FDW on Eastern Oregon Trip

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  If you are seeing this post through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

In the first two segments about my Dad –  F. Duane Williams (FDW), I talked about how my parents met in New York City and then about our moves – first to Philadelphia and then to Madeira – a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. 

The last post told some stories about Ohio which will help illustrate why he was such an outstanding person and role model as a Dad. https://thebeerchaser.com/2021/11/09/fdw-beerchaser-of-the-quarter-part-ii/

These continue below….:

The Trains

One of Dad’s best friends was a guy we called Uncle Charlie, who worked at Shillito’s Department Store – housed in a massive building in the heart of downtown Cincinnati which was also one of my Dad’s carpet sales accounts. Shillito’s was Cincinnati’s first department store – founded in 1830 and at one time, had sales exceeding those of its three largest competitors:

Shillito’s, in addition to being Cincinnati’s largest department store, was a landmark of the city, and one of the oldest in the country.” (The Department Store Museum blog)   (* See end of post for external photo attribution)

Charlie was a buyer for the Toy Department and one of the items he stocked (and got great pricing on) was Lionel Trains.   Both my Dad and Charlie loved these trains which were noted for their craftsmanship:

“Lionel trains have been produced since 1900, and their trains drew admiration from model railroaders around the world for the solidity of their construction and the authenticity of their detail.

During its peak years in the 1950s, the company sold $25 million worth of trains per year.[2] In 2006, Lionel’s electric train became the first electric toy inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.”

Like many single-family homes in Ohio, we had a large basement.  That’s where the laundry, freezer and my Dad’s carpet samples were stored. It was expansive, however, and there was still a lot of additional space. 

So FDW built a very large wood “train table” – the plywood top of which must have had the dimensions of ten feet by eight feet for the Lionel trains. 

He also built a second table with about the same dimensions for us to construct model airplanes and to play “war” with rubber soldiers – I remember it well.  We spent hours in the basement.  My Mom also used that table for crafts for the Cub Scout Den when Frannie served as Den Mother.

Every Christmas we would find  multiple Lionel engines, passenger and freight cars, cabooses, accessories and additional track under our tree to add to the already impressive collection.  Dad got more of a kick out of “Santa’s gift” than we did and Christmas day was always hours spent running the trains through their paces with him.  

We still have those trains in great condition – now stored in a storage unit with hopes of eventually putting them into use again.  Two of the images below are just a small portion of the inventory made a few years ago. (This led me to check out what exactly the “Electro Nuclear Devices” shown on the second page was – not as ominous as it sounds…..)

Basement Disruption….The “Flow”

Madeira, in the mid to late 1950’s, went through a growth spurt and the infrastructure was challenged to support new development.  The Madeira City Public Works and Engineering Departments did not adequately plan for it. 

It resulted in the storm sewers eventually being overwhelmed during severe storms and flowing into the sewer system.  (Maybe not correct from an engineering standpoint, but my recollection as an ten-year old…)

So after living in our house for about six years or so, a few times each year, our basement was inundated with raw sewage – from 3 to 10 inches deep throughout the entire space.  The implications from a health, property damage and livability standpoint were obvious although after the first few episodes, I’m sure that Dad put anything that would be damaged high enough to avoid the odiferous liquid sludge – not the case with appliances……

Rapid Growth Without Supporting Infrastructure *10

It was the result of a lot of new houses being built where the drains in their driveways flowed into the storm sewers – evidently without capacity.  If you read the first two blog posts, you saw that FDW was not one to sit passively by, nor were a number of our neighbors on Miami Avenue who experienced the same periodic “shit show” in which excrement in the basement was not an exciting or anticipated event.

But the Mayor and City Council at the time were not inclined to deal with it.  The solution would have cost the people in the houses contributing to the problem to pay for the upgrades required for the sewer system. 

Although the City was responsible for correcting the problem, this was not a popular political solution especially when it was only a relatively small group of residents adversely affected. (I also noticed that the Madeira Historical Society does not cover this in their chronology…)

Fruitless discussions with the City’s representatives after one of the worst slime sorties, saw FDW make his move – one I still remember.   Our entire family including the four kids age 2 to 8 and my mom along with a number of neighbors attended the City Council meeting where my Dad had signed up to testify.

He carried a very large shopping bag with him into the Council Chamber.  When it was his time to address the Council, Dad slowly walked up to the witness table with the bag and ceremoniously extricated a bucket. 

He sat there in silence for about 30 seconds allowing the pungent smell to circulate.  Before returning to his seat in the audience, he then said:

“I thought you should see and smell, first-hand, what we’ve had in our basement for the last three days.”  

One reason I remember this meeting over sixty years later is the stench from that bucket made a memorable impact on me and everybody at the meeting!   Mayor Patton stammered an apology and said that they would work for a solution.   (I don’t remember who came up and got the bucket and what they did with it.) 

In the end, while the City remedied the problem, my parents decided to buy a lot and build a house in Indian Hills – an adjacent community that was less developed.

“Nuthun” Kennedy

I was fortunate to have a number of friends from school and Scouts, but from first grade at Miami Hills Elementary (renamed Dupont Elementary after Principal John Dumont when I attended) until we moved after sixth grade, Nelson Kennedy was my best friend. I distinctly remember playing Home Run Derby in his back yard and riding bikes all around Madeira.

He gives me credit for introducing him to the Hardy Boy Novels in our second-grade book club and I will always be grateful to him for joining the Junior Choir at the First Presbyterian Church so I didn’t have to suffer alone. 

He had great parents and we often did overnighters.  His dad was was a manager for Ford Motor Co. and supervised production of automatic transmissions.  His mom worked raising the four Kennedy kids, Joe, Nelson, MaryAnn and Russell.

He was called “Nurthin” – not as a nickname, but because that’s how I pronounced his name when I lost my front teeth….  Nelson (later nicknamed both “Moose” because of his physical size and then “Nellie Bellie” because the jeep on the popular Roy Rogers’ TV Show had the moniker “Nelly Belle.” – It sold for $38,400  in 2018 according to this article.).

I will tell you more about Nelson and how we reconnected in later years, but first, back to our adventures in Madeira when we were in grade school.  One summer afternoon when we were in sixth grade, we (four of us – Nelson, Bob McBrearty, Gordon Williams and I) decided to take a short-cut to the High School where kids could jump on the trampoline under supervision.

After so many years, I don’t think I can pin the blame on any one of us, but we collectively decided to take a short cut when we came across a reasonably large storm sewer pipe that went in the same direction as MHS and had no grill or screen prohibiting entry. 

It did not occur to us that it was about 1/2 mile away and would require navigation through the conduit for that distance without any means of illumination.   There was no water and the illustration below shows about the approximate circumference going in although it was only a single outlet.

A viable short-cut to the High School gym? *13

It started off well.  Nelson and I were third and fourth in line and we walked through some junctions of pipe without even having to bend over much and got light from small outlet pipes that branched from the main line.  About fifteen minutes into our journey, the pipe started getting smaller, there were several branch junctions we had passed and there was a small stream of water that started flowing.  We were also lost…….

It didn’t take long for us to conclude that our plan was misguided (fortunately not fatally flawed…) and we decided to take one of the smaller branch pipes out to daylight – it appeared to be about 100 feet away.   

Filled with optimism we started crawling on our bellies (especially Nellie) through the approximately two and one-half foot diameter pipe to daylight.  (Nelson went first because he was the biggest and he told me as I was researching this post, that he thought otherwise we would have left him behind).

Nuthin had a good sense of humor and half-way out, he deadpanned, “I’m stuck!”    That would have been a real problem, but it was not the dilemma we faced when the four of us – fairly disheveled at that point – slowly and incrementally crawled out of the pipe into the backyard of a house on Miami Avenue – one in which a woman was watering her plants.   

She looked with astonishment and said as she walked hastily into her house, “I’m calling the Police.”   Even though I was only in sixth grade, I had the political savvy to understand the implications if the oldest son of the chief critic of Madeira’s sewer system was caught slinking through it’s pipes.  

We started running and hid in my house without seeing any flashing lights or hearing sirens speeding up Miami Ave to the scene of the “discharge.”   None of us had an appetite that night.  FDW, when he heard the story, shook his head, told us he was glad we were not harmed and again, asked if I had learned a lesson.

*14

West Point

I said goodbye to Nelson in 1961 and in the next post will relate through a twist of fate (and lawyers) how we were united forty-three years later in Oregon, but suffice to say that after sixth grade, Nelson and I lost contact.  I found out that he was a star athlete in high school – primarily basketball – an honor student and earned a cherished appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point.   

And Nelson Kennedy, besides being a wonderful best friend, was a key factor in my younger brother Garry’s decision to attend West Point in the class two years behind Nelson, after corresponding and then visiting him in my brother’s high school senior year.  Both Nelson and Garry served their country well while at the Academy and during their active duty in the Army.

While at West Point, Garry was a member of the West Point Glee Club and in a five-person vocal combo called The Headliners

The Headliners group of the United States Military Academy (West Point) Glee Club existed from 1965-84.” 

The Glee Club appeared periodically on network television on such shows as the Mike Douglas Show.   On one of the multiple appearances while Garry was a member of the Club, they did a simulation of the Dating Game with actress, Karen Valentine, who won on Emmy Award for her role on the comedy series Room 222.

Garry was one of three USMA cadets to attempt to be “the bachelor” selected by the actress, based on answers to her questions and he  “won” the contest – although unfortunately, no actual date with Valentine…..

You might surmise that Garry was doing his best to remedy the sullied reputation of his older brother (even before he garnered the nickname “Dirt.”)  The Glee Club also sang at the White House in 1972.  The picture shows Garry standing just to the left of President Nixon during a performance of the Headliners.

Garry called home while he was in the White House.  His conversation with my Mom went like this:

Garry – “Well, we just performed in Tricky Dick’s House.”

Frannie – “Garry, you probably shouldn’t say that.  They could be recording these phone calls.”

Garry – “Oh Mom, they would never make recordings of conversations in the White House!”

It is fitting to share these memories of Garry on the date of the 32th year commemorating his passing.  He left a lasting legacy for his integrity, compassion for others, sense of humor and intellect among other traits.

Stories of FDW – Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter to be continued……

External Photo Attribution

*1  Wikimedia Commons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shillito_Company#/media/File:Shillito’s_Department_Store_View_1.JPG)  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  Author:  Joe D. Good – 28 September 2014.

*2  Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shillito_Company#/media/File:Shillitos_Logo.jpgThis logo image consists only of simple geometric shapes or text. It does not meet the threshold of originality needed for copyright protection, and is therefore in the public domain.

*3  Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lionel_Corporation_Logo.jpg)  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  Author:  Zachary 578 -17 Febuary, 2015.

*4  Public Domain Wikimedia Cdommons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lionel_Corporation#/media/File:Lionel_Trains_-_1929_advertisement.jpg)  Author:  Siriu_s 17 November 2016.

*5  Website (https://www.hobbylinc.com/diecast-model-airplanes)  HOBBYLINC.

*6 Ebay (https://www.ebay.com/itm/264762908178)

*7  Ebay (https://www.ebay.com/itm/352772578704

*8  – 9 (https://modeltrainmarket.com/collections/o-scale-model-collections/products/o-1-48-scale-electro-nuclear-devices-louis-marx-company-audio-engineer#6659610935395-1)

* 10  Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Housing_subdivision#/media/File:Caudry_-_Lotissement_r%C3%A9cent.JPG) This work has been released into the public domain by its author, JÄNNICK Jérémy.  10 October, 2010.

* 11  Creative Commons  (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:34_Bucket.jpg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  Author:  Deklenam 14 October, 2020.

*12  Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nellybelle_in_front_of_Christies_-_panoramio.jpg) Lcensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  Author:  hill10003  12 July 2010.

*13  Wikimedia Commons (sewer) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wylot_kolektor%C3%B3w_burzowych_przy_mo%C5%9Bcie_poniatowskiego.jpg)  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  Author:  Panek 31 July, 2021.

*14  City of Madeira Ohio Website (https://www.madeiracity.com/government/departments/police/index.php

15  Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mike_Douglas_1966.JPGThis work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in the United States between 1926 and 1977, inclusive, without a copyright notice. Author: AFA-Ashley Famous Agency (management)

*16 Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Karen_Valentine#/media/File:Karen_Valentine_Lloyd_Haynes_Room_222_1970.JPGThis work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in the United States between 1926 and 1977, inclusive, without a copyright noticeAuthor:  ABC Television.