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Me small



Here is where is all started!


This might explain how I “got this way”…


Click on the photos to make most of them larger

Xmas_1967 small Xmas_1968 small

Christmas 1967                              Christmas 1968



I have liked trains since my earliest memory. I have often asked myself why at various times throughout my life and have never been able to even come close to an answer. I just DO…The American Flyer trains shown above were bought for my oldest sister.  I know that my parents went to great lengths to preserve the Christmas morning anticipation for me since I am the youngest. Keeping Santa Claus “alive” as long as possible was a little challenge. That ½ hour from when the presents were first discovered until they were opened was probably one of the happiest moments of the year for my mom. We went to bed on Christmas Eve with the living room somewhat decorated for Christmas but still relatively intact. There was no Christmas tree or train platform. Everything magically appeared on Christmas morning, obviously set up by Santa Claus. Note the 1968 photo has such a complex track layout the Christmas tree could not fit on the platform any more. My Pop was not into trains but liked changing and adding to the set up for me.



I distinctly remember that extreme anticipation for Christmas morning 1967. My Pop ran a rope between my bedroom doorknob and the bathroom doorknob right across the hall to TIE me in my room because I kept on getting up while they were setting everything up.  Since I was still a little asleep, I was quickly shuffled back into bed and didn’t think twice about what I thought I saw.


It was not about the new wrapped toys I would be getting. The completely unbearable anticipation was ALL about getting to run my trains again after a whole year went by. I stomped on and over all the new unopened toys in an effort to get the trains running as soon as possible. Again, I very distinctly remember my mother being forced to unplug the trains to get me to open my presents. I also remember very clearly that for Christmas 1968 that there was a PATH cleared in the presents for me to the quickly reach the transformers.


I designed and built my first permanent American Flyer layout with minimal help from my father at age 12. My second larger A F layout was built about 1 year later. That lasted for about 3 years. Unfortunately there were only a few bad Black &White photos taken of that layout. Here are 3 of them that I could find so far. The small structure that is near the grade crossing at the lower right of the right photo was made by me when I was 14. It is made from the cigar box from when my oldest nephew was born in 1975.  Now that I look at the photos again in 2007 I can still see what the photos do not show here.


American_Flyer_Layout_1small  American_Flyer_Layout_2 small  American_Flyer_Layout_3 small


Here are some other things I

made from about age 12 to 14.

In a very few Father & Son moments I started making bridges with my father cutting the pine wood strips on the table saw. One of them was the famous Scottish Fourth Bridge which I got pretty far along on 1 side before I lost momentum. None of them were used on layouts or survived today. I was getting Model Railroader at the time and looking at the plans that were S Scale. I am pretty sure that the Bobber Caboose is from a Canadian plan. The Stock Car might be freelanced. There was a passenger car that was made from a solid piece of pine that is currently missing. I AM sure that was made from a PRR plan in Model Railroader – possibly a D85 diner car. I absolutely do remember making them all.


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The Bobber was wood sheets also made by my father at his work as a Steel Foundry Patternmaker at Westinghouse Electric in Lester Pa. He had access to every woodworking machine possible so he surface planed top quality pine down to about 1/8” thick. The roof was soaked overnight in the bathtub taped to a coffee can to set a curve to it. I cut each slot to simulate the individual boards with an Exacto hand saw. There are 2 fishing dipseys screwed inside for added weight. 4 Bobber journal boxes were made from APPLE wood, but it has yet to roll down a track. I think I got stumped on how to put American Flyer knuckle couplers on it especially when I probably did not have any extras. It is what probably led to the permanent work stoppage on the Bobber. It is possibly the LAST time I tried to scratchbuild something from wood, but I look back now with some pride and sentimental memories that I was a modeler even back in the day…. 



 Tour of the Tyco Factory – Mantua NJ

When I was in grade school (1970) I went to school with a boy whose father worked at Tyco. In about 1974 the father managed a Cub Scout group. He took us for a tour of the Tyco factory in Mantua NJ. (Man-CHEW-a) I was still American Flyer at the time. None of my friends had any trains so I was not exposed to HO until later. I had heard about Tyco elsewhere. My mom never worked but in late summer some moms in my neighborhood would be hired part time to work at Tyco. I believe they were seasonal. It was a good place to work from what I remember hearing. Anyway back to the tour. We were told 100 times DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING! From what I know now of manufacturing, I think I remember enough to say **everything** was done and made there. Plastic injection molding, metal casting, blackening, (was told that if you put your hand in the blackening it would eat your hand off!) painting... it was all done there.

I distinctly remember watching a woman wind the armatures for motors. Every motor and loco was test run. There were multiple tables with loops of track and a ton of locomotives everywhere. They all went for a few test laps in both directions, then off to a box. I remember it was real home grown - maybe a LOT cheesy. Some of the test stuff was well worn wood fixtures with nails sticking out for electrical testing. Touch the motor to the nails! The painting was done with a mask. It was close fitting to the car metal sheet cut out to the lettering, and 2 passes with a paint gun - done. There might have been pad printing too, but that is not as clear now. We got a Tyco race car for a present. I got a brown VW bug. This caused my brother in law to give me his Aurora car tracks and cars and so I went off for a bit into HO race cars. My American Flyer was still set up at Christmas only. Tyco had a race car set with a "4 speed" shifter for a controller. It was real novel but did not hold up well.


This all must have been "burned on my brain" because about 40 years later I remember it all! (:->)


My friend's father had a small portable layout about 3' x 4' that folded up like a suitcase. It was OLD at that time. There was Mantua Metals photos on the lid. It was a portable display layout possibly for promotion for Mantua Metals.


My Cub Scout life was VERY short lived - about 2 weeks. My friend's father that was the leader and worked at Tyco moved to another part of our town and gave up being leader. About a year later I was in 8th grade a questionnaire form was given out in school about interests. I did not know but this was also from the Boy Scouts. I checked OTHER and scribbled in "trains" as my interest.


Explorer Group Pitman NJ

I got a call from a new leader, which was Explorers, the older Boy Scout kids. There was 7 of us train nerds that became the only group in Explorer history whose theme was based on trains. Others were crawling through caves and making rope bridges. Uhhhh NO! We were very much indoor train geeks. Again the Explorers Group  Leader (Mike Sharkey where are you?) moved back to the Boston area. We were eventually adopted by an adult HO train club - the fictitious “West Jersey & Gloucester” on the 3rd floor of Pitman NJ Borough hall. The Scouts needed a designated leader which we really did not have at the time. 1977 was the start of my HO period. I "borrowed" some Tyco from my friend. I remember the hoppers had opening hopper doors. Not long after that I was putting Kadee couplers on. Bob's Hobbies was 3 blocks up the street in Pitman NJ. That is where I learned about Kadee couplers, ATHEARN, Hobbytown and brass trains.


One of the other kids - Don Miller - was real big on Tyco. He had a A B B A set of Sante Fe F units he put 2 power trucks in each, and weighted the hell of them. They weighed a ton. It got to be a goof when he came to run because we mostly moved on to Athearn by then. A little friendly competition was on..... The club layout was open grid about 24 feet square, mostly a big loop with a folded over and under dogbone in a big 8 feet tall mountain and a hidden staging yard. If a train was going to stall it was in one curved hill coming out of this mountain. Don had a good size train with his Santa Fe set. We all waited till he got to the start of the hill. He stalled and was very unhappy. I just got my 2 motor Athearn PRR (Yeah RIGHT) DD40.  I backed it down to the train and took off.


We were "encouraged" to switch to Kadee couplers or at least cut the bottom pins off the horn hook couplers. I wanted to make everything I had Kadee. Being 16 without an allowance and having a very CHEAP father, getting Kadees were a cherished gift.


I have no photos of the layout or people from that time period which is very unfortunate now. At 16 years old you think this will be around forever.


Photo and some new text added 2-10-24

I do wonder where the train nerds from the Explorer Group are. They would all be in their 60s now like me. Not kids anymore. Most of the adults are very likely deceased by now. I am pretty sure I threw out the remaining Tyco out. I decided I wanted to be “HO free” in my house.


But there was some custom made fictitious cars made by club member PJ Mattson. I remember them from when I was active in the club in 1977 and many years later when I rediscovered PJ and the cars at his house. He was my last known person and tie to that important period in my life. PJ passed in April 2023. On 2-10-24 I went to his estate sale looking for 1 of those WJ&G hopper cars. I did not find any hoppers somehow they were likely previously sold but I did find this box car and bought it. It is my first piece of HO I have bought in over 30 years. The hoppers had a very similar paint job as the below boxcar. I thought it was ugly in 1977 and is still ugly today but am so glad I bought it on 2-10-24 for $5.00.


West Jersey & Gloucester Boxcar

WJ&G_Boxcar small



The Boxcar That Started A Movement

Added 2-25-17


I was at a train show in about 1985 where I saw this raggedy old S Scale boxcar on a table in the usual sea of HO. The car was not American Flyer, and was built up from a kit. I did not know about any of these kits until I saw this car. The seller did not know either. After a few passes of it I talked the guy from $15.00 to $7.00, and took it home. It was a goof purchase.



Boxcar_1 small  Boxcar_2 small

History of this boxcar per Dick Karnes 2-25-17

It's a Midgauge boxcar. Cast white metal ends and doors, embossed aluminum sides, brass door guides.  Trucks are Culp, couplers are Devore.  Roof ribs are separate stamped metal parts glued to a wood roof.  A dead giveaway is the coupler pocket, the visible end of a white-metal casting that combines coupler pocket, center sill (end portion only), and body bolster.  The "teeth" atop the pocket are unique to Midgauge (in that era). Gene Fletcher was the owner of Midgauge.  His friend Bill Stewart cast the white-metal parts, later released under his own name.  The pair also marketed smooth-side streamliner kits, later offered under the trade name "Sylvania”. The era was 1946-1955.


I am going to keep it just as is.


It sat on a shelf in my room for a long time next to some of my American Flyer I had out for display. I looked at it daily thinking if only American Flyer were just “bigger HO” with slow speed DC operation. I did not know it yet but the seed had been planted.


Then a truly life changing event happened. In late 1987 I went to my first Central Jersey S Scalers Get Together in South Amboy NJ. The church hall was FILLED with an S Scale modular layout without any American Flyer running. I walked into that meet an HO modeler and left as an S Scaler. I started buying S SCALE and got rid of my HO.


Added 11-26-23

I don’t know why this story popped in my head this morning but maybe it will explain some of my obsession with S Scale.


There was a weekly newspaper in my area called “Tradin Times” that was very popular. It was classified ads only. That was the place to look for cars and car parts which dominated the ads. A few months after my first Central Jersey S Scalers Get Together in 1987 there was a large ad for trains for sale with various scales, but clearly stated “S Scale”. I was close but not completely committed to switching to S Scale yet. I think I had just bought my very first car -  a Overland N5b cabin car but did not have anything else yet. So of course I called, and clarified it was S Scale for sale. The seller was completely sure he had S Scale for sale.


So I went to check it out. As I got there the reason for the train sale was pretty obvious. There was the car that was running at the end of the driveway followed by the dead car with the car that has been dead for a really long time next to the house. There were at least 5 large fish tanks throughout the house with very green very stagnant water and no fish in them. The 3 children aged about 8 to 12 were walking around in just underwear bottoms including going outside. One of them was a girl. Once I finally made it to the kitchen there was trains truly scattered everywhere. The kitchen cabinets had doors missing or hanging off but there was no food in them just lots of trains.


When I got to the S Scale it was all brand new American Models. The house was close to “Teds Engine House” in Pennsauken NJ which was a large train only store for many years. Everything was bought at Ted’s and had Ted’s price stickers on them. It was 2 PRR FP7 and 50 freight cars.


You can understand that I was not shocked at all to hear the guy’s wife left him because of his train buying obsession, and he owed the IRS a ton of money in unpaid taxes. He was self-employed as a truck driver.


So the trains had to go, and I knew that I was the only person that called about buying the S Scale. I did my best to take full advantage of the seller’s total dire financial circumstances with cash in hand and chiseled him down on price. At the time new American Models freight car KITS were $18.00 each. The FP7 were $125.00 each. On first visit I picked out 30 cars I got for $12.00 each and both FP7 for $100.00 each. He wanted me to take them all but I did not have that much money with me. About a month later he called me to see if I was buying the rest of the cars. When I went back most of the trains were gone, but he did buy some more since my last visit. I got the last 20 cars for $9.00 each.


The above is my all true very accurate head first plunge into S Scale in the spring of 1988.



Also in about 1988 I was frequently driving 1 hour ++ to the CJSS events on Friday nights after working, and then getting home at 1:00 AM. After about a year I decided that maybe there is room for a club closer to home.


Many members of the Central Jersey S Scalers are still some of my closest friends today. I just wanted something more local though. When I met Roy Hoffman, we co-founded the South Jersey S Scalers in 1989. I was so original in picking that name!


IIRC the first meeting was in July 1989. We needed a logo. It should not be a shock I made the logo PRR flavored. A banner was needed to go to train shows and promote the club. I went to a cloth store and drew up the shape. My Mom sewed it up. I found an airbrush artist to paint it which cost me almost a week’s pay.


I mostly figured they were not using it anymore. I heard it was pulled from the trash once.


I am very happy I got it back on 3-1-24.

SJSS Banner small

I am really limited on wall space that can be used for train stuff so I had to use the basement bathroom wall but whatever - good enough. My Mom made it.  It is BACK!


This photo is possibly the first time I used the banner at a train show to promote the club.

SJSS Table


I was active in the South Jersey S Gaugers for about 12 years.  My interests were modeling S Scale. The main interest of the SJSS membership majority was almost always Hi Rail and American Flyer. The South Jersey S Scalers became the South Jersey S Gaugers in about 1995 and they are very active today. Lives and interests change. I met my wife in 2000. I am just not active with SJSG anymore. I run my trains at my house. My layout pages start here.


I model the Mighty PRR in 1957. I also like PRSL, Reading, B&O, C&O, N&W, and most other Northeastern roads as well.  I have been a member of the PRR T&HS since 1990. I restarted the PRSLHS after a 20 year hiatus. It is on line only. I have been accused of being a Slobbering Pennsy Freak and a Rivet Counter. All I can say is somebody has to do it! I have been “brass bashing” almost exclusively for many years now. I don’t remember the last time I painted or assembled a plastic kit. I enjoy working with brass most because I believe in the stability of solder more than I do of the longevity of adhesives or glue.


Added 7-9-19

I have expanded my models and modeling a bit to include Chessie, Conrail, CSX, Southern and Norfolk Southern. Most of these are plastic models I bought ready to run. The concentration on brass modeling only has lessened substantially. CSX and Norfolk Southern locos run all the time 1 mile away at the end of my street on the former PRSL as Conrail. Conrail still exists.

Custom Made Detail Parts


I have had brass parts, like PRR Trust Plates, PRR Round and Keystone steam engine number plates made (See my Solidworks page) and functioning draft gear from my master patterns because the parts did not exist in S Scale. I realized that the ends of a car are usually the most neglected area. My standard detailing upgrade includes installing cut lever brackets, phosphor bronze wire cut levers, air hoses and draft gear where it is possible. I think many production brass models are a good place to start to make a complete and correct model. I have not finished a model of my own without adding a detail or changing something before it was painted. Even though there may have been 100 pieces of an item made in the production run, the models are distinctively mine when I have finished them. It is my way of making them my own”.


trust plate




Added 11-17-18

The long time dream of recreating my American Flyer layout as an adult finally hit reality in 2018. It was a gradual 2 year long reckoning. I have consumed my basement with my S Scale layout. My house is by far not big enough for 2 layouts. In September 2018 I sold my American Flyer collection, the real FIRST trains in my life. There was no “kids” in my life to give them to. I was not using them so they were sold. One less thing to get rid of later.


In December 2018 we got a new shed built. The platforms had been in the old shed for 9 years. I took these photos as I cleaned out the old shed for removal. The green main platform is about 60 years old at this point. They were disposed of with the demolition of the old shed. It is the end of an era for me.


The lower right photo is the same as the upper right, and connected to the main platform on the lower right of the photo on below left.

American_Flyer_Layout_4 small American_Flyer_Layout_5 small

Got it? J


Updated 3-3-24

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