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Trains, Trees and Traditions

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The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum and the Richard Nixon Foundation in conjunction with members of the Train Collectors Association, Western Division, and members from the All Gauge Toy Train Association in San Diego, California are proud to present for our 2013 holiday exhibition a veritable display of miniature train layouts that hark back to the glorious era of American toy train manufacturing.  On display are layouts with "Tinplate" trains and toys from the 1950s and 1960s; "Thomas the Tank Engine" and his friends from Sodor; a Lionel Corporation replica of the "Disappearing Train Layout," and other well-loved trains and toys from Louis & Marx Corporation, American Flyer and of course, Lionel Corporation. To supplement the exhibition a delightful mix of Christmas trees will be on display throughout the lobbies and galleries of the Nixon Library.
 

This train layout has Standard Gauge model trains which were manufactured from the early 1900’s until World War II.  The colorful oversized trains are referred to as “Tinplate” due to their stamped metal construction.  The scaled down trains are approximate sizes of real operating trains of the day.

The structures, bridges, figures, automobiles and parked locomotives on display are original items built between 1900 and 1930.  Today, original Standard Gauge trains are highly sought after by collectors. 
Designed by John Bowman, collection courtesy of John Parker.

 

The “Thomas the Tank” engine character is featured in “Thomas & Friends,” a British TV show that was first produced in 1984.  The show is based on forty-two books called “The Railway Series,” first published in 1945. Twenty-six of the books were written by Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry with the balance written by his son Christopher Awdry.  Aside from the publication series and television series, the stories have been made into movies which are now available on DVD making it by far the most popular children's railroad series of all time.  Narrators for the series include singer/songwrite and actor Ringo Starr and comedian George Carlin.

The story of “Thomas & Friends” takes place on the tiny fictional island of Sodor.  Thomas the Tank Engine’s many friends include The Fat Controller; Edward the Blue Engine; Henry the Green Engine; Gordon the Big Engine; James the Red Engine; Percy the Small Engine; Toby the Tram Engine.  Emily the Stirling Engine was newly introduced in the TV series. Thomas the Engine Tank is usually linked with seating coaches Annie and Clarabel.    
Aside from wooden and plastic reproductions of “Thomas and his Friends,” the actual running miniature electric trains have also been manufactured in three popular toy train gauges HO, O and G Gauge. This layout represents a small portion of the Island of Sodor in G Scale.
Designed and co-built by Bob Lemberger and Wayne Sheriff.

 

Louis Marx & Company was an American toy manufactured that opened its doors 1919 and shut down manufacturing in 1978.  From the 1950's to the 1960's it was the largest manufacturer in the world of toys. Their specialty, known as “Tinplate,” was manufacturing thin metal sheets into bright colorful lithographs in the form of forts, buildings, gas stations and anything imaginable. Their early plastic figures stimulated children's imaginations and their toy trains took a back seat to none.  In fact Marx trains, with their high quality, durability and low cost, out- sold Lionel and American Flyer trains combined during this period. 

With the low cost of Marx trains, four orange crates and an old door, or a four foot by eight foot sheet of plywood was all you needed to begin building a train display.  "Plywood empires" cropped up all over the country taking over basements, attics and even the family room during the holidays.  Often in the center of the layout was the family Christmas tree. Anything was acceptable; trains were mixed together with Construction sets; Civil War sets; Revolutionary War sets; WW II sets, and Gas Station play sets. Thanks to the vivid imaginations of children it was not unusual to have a layout filled with Cowboys and Indians;
dinosaurs; missiles, rockets and/or even a tall skyscraper.  This display is designed to take you back to that wonderful era. 
 Built and designed by Steve Eastman.

 

The 1950's was the height of toy train production in the United States, and every child desired a toy train to run under the Christmas tree.  Back then American Flyer was the second largest toy train manufacturer, right behind the Lionel Corporation who was their main competitor.  

American Flyer differed from Lionel in their use of two rail tracks versus Lionel's three rail track system.  American Flyer touted their slightly smaller scale and more realistic looking trains and track as being superior to Lionel. Their steam engines had real red glowing smoke and synchronized choo-choo sounds while their Diesel models featured a roar sound. Their freight and passenger cars came with realistic scale couplers, all features that Lionel Corporation did not match.

The layout on display features two sets, one powered by a steam locomotive and one powered by a diesel engine both representing the peak period of the 1950's.  Enjoy your trip back to the height of toy train manufacturing and sales, an era long gone. 
Designed by Jim Kenney.

 

LIONEL…Railroading Action at its Best!  World War II is over and now Lionel has
complete railroading by remote control.  Whistling!  Uncoupling!  Loading! 
Unloading!  Magne-Traction!  Puffing Smoke!  
With the above ad line in the 1950s the Lionel Corporation was the leader in model trains with all the features of real trains and so many accessories with scale details.   All Lionel trains now had real knuckle couplers with remote control action.  In fact, Lionel developed radio-wave transmitters that controlled individual cars!  Lionel trains had far more “operating” cars and accessories, and its trains could “do” more. 

Why three-rail track?  Because it was less complicated electrically and permitted father and son
to build complex layouts with more action.  The Lionel Corporation advertised that Lionel trains brought families together; trains were the perfect instrument of the father-son fellowship.  A Lionel train in the living room at Christmas was as American as apple pie.  Many of us still remember the gateman waving to passing trains, milk cars delivering milk, rotating beacons, pumping oil derricks, and log cars or coal cars giving us hours of fun.  Here you see a typical Lionel train layout that you might have seen in the 1950’s.
Co-built by J. Keely, Larry Carpenter and Ken Flory.

 

In October 2009, to celebrate their 40th anniversary, the All Gauge Toy Train Association or AGTTA in San Diego, California replicated this layout of a Lionel’s Dealers Display, “Disappearing Train” Layout D-27.  Contributors to the layout included Jim Andrews, Pat Archer, Len Balistreri, Lee Davis, Jon Everett, Larry Gardner, Alan Hamel, Fred Holmes, Jim Hutchens, Ed Karper, Dick Seaney, Anthony Tarantino, Bob Wall and Rand Washburn. The layout was raffled and the winner, Mr. and Mrs. Pat Archer of Escondido, California generously allowed us to display here at the Library. 
Co-built by AGTTA members Jim Weatherford, Mike Wheeler and Jim Murphy

 
 



 

For more information, contact us at 714-983-9120 or Nixon@nara.gov.

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