Historic Pelham

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

1950 Article Mentions Model Railroading Club That Used Pelham Manor Depot

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For a number of years after the New Haven Branch line stopped running passenger service at the beautiful little Pelham Manor Depot, a model railroading club sprang up to use the empty Depot.  The Club built a massive model railroading layout that even included a tiny replica of the very Pelham Manor Depot within which the Club was housed.  The Club lasted only a few years until the Depot was demolished to make way for today's I-95.

Below is an article that appeared in the Watertown Daily Times on January 5, 1950.  It mentioned the little club that made the Pelham Manor Depot its headquarters.

"Model Railroading Holds Interest of Many People
With Hundreds of Men This Hobby Takes the Place of Golf, Stamp Collecting or Woodcraft -- In Some Cities There Are Clubs, with Elaborate Miniature Railroads -- Estimates Place Followers of Hobby at 250,000 Fans.
By Sumner Ahlbum
In Nation's Business for January, 1950

The tile-roofed field-stone station at Pelham Manor, N.Y., is a neat example of suburbiana.  It is also a railroad paradox. 

Past the platform runs the four-track Hell Gate route of the New York, New Haven & Hartford railroad, but no trains have stopped there for years.  Inside, however, where in earlier days commuters waited for the 8:15, stands a miniature replica of Pelham Manor's deopot, a literal chip off the old stone.  Past it runs one of the world's largest railroads -- scaled to match the miniature station -- and the engineer who fails to stop is in trouble. 

This phenomenon takes place on three Thursday nights a month when the timetable of the dwarf-sized Eastern Lines comes to life at 8:22.  Pelham Manor suddenly becomes Central City, and a group of intent business men, most of whom commute to their daytime offices in full-sized trains, bend their efforts to getting Local No. 1, westbound, off on its scheduled run.

Just as others play golf, collect stamps or carve ships that fit inside whisky bottles, these are grown-ups with the same fierce determination to relax.  They have fun playing at running a railroad, an occupational dream many a man has had tucked in the back of his head since boyhood.

But they are not, as some cynics might believe, playing with toys.  The locomotive and coaches that rolled west from Central City at 8:22 are as different from the train under Junior's Christmas tree as a push-pedal auto is from a limousine.  Like a lot of other grown men all over the nation, they are riding a hobby known as model railroading. 

It's a hobby engaged in by an estimated 250,000 business men, clerks, architects, doctors, bankers -- and even railroad men.  They have good company, too, John Jacob Astor II, whose investment portfolio includes good-sized chunks of the real thing, has a scale-model railroad that occupies a whole floor in his New York town house, plus a large outdoor version on his Long Island estate.

Lyndon Y. Shaw, a first insurance underwriter in Reading, Pa., spent 200 hours building a model electric locomotive scaled one fourth of an inch to the foot, and was one of last year's prize winners in the hobby.  A ten-wheeler steam loco, scaled a little less than half that size, won honors for Edward M. VanLer, a purchasing agent for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y.

These men occupy themselves with their hobby (or play at it, depending on which side of the track you stand) in a variety of forms and sizes.  The clubs and more ambitious individuals go in for big lay-outs with complicated yards, heavy traffic and the electrical wizardry of such things as route inter-locking.  Such modeling usually is to a scale of one fourth of an inch to a foot, which is called 'O' gauge.  The home-grown variety may be a small segment of a modern prototype, a jerkwater branch that runs from coal bin to washtubs, a replica of something in the 1880[s, or even a street car line.  Mostly this is in the highly popular 'HO' gauge (3.5 mm to the foot); there are other sizes, too, including one as small as one tenth of an inch to a foot (called 'TT' for tabletop). 

In the more popular sizes, miniature trains can be bought over the counter, complete with tracks ready to take home and run.  But model railroaders mostly prefer to buy the more exactly scaled models in kit form and put them together themselves, or even, in the case of the more meticulous modeler, to get a set of scale blue-prints and build from scratch. 

This preoccupation for exactness has built up a new industry now estimated at about $7,500,000 annual gross among some 100 manufacturers.  These range from one-man basement workshops that operate on a part-time basis to a plant in Portsmouth, R.I., housed in two secondhand boxcars a mile from the nearest railroad.  The two biggest producers are Mantua Metal Products, which has 80 employees and is a complete operation, and Varney Scale Models, which has less than half that number of workers and farms out a lot of work to subcontractors.

The Association of American Railroads (full-sized) estimates there are 250,000 fans to support these manufacturers, along with 30 wholesalers and 3,000 retail outlets.  A more realistic view is offered by Albert Kalmback, publisher of Model Railroader magazine, Kalmbach was a model railroader in the late 20's, which was the Tom Thumb area of the hobby.  A bride who didn't think he was crazy helped him start his magazine in 1934, and in the intervening 15 years, the Model Railroader has been given fairly unanimous credit as the fuel that gave the hobby and the industry their present full heads of steam.

Pelham Manor depot is a good place to watch the hobby on a teamwork basis.  Like other games played by teams, the Westchester Model Club's Eastern Lines draws spectators -- 75 to 100 on an average operating night.

What they see is a complex railroad weaving itself about a foom 81 by 21 feet, crisscrossed by trestles and bridges, studded with signal towers, crossing gates, a roundhouse, oil tanks, way stations and other embellishments familiar to anyone who has ever looked out of a train window.

Along more than 200 feet of mainline track, in and out of yards, branches and sidings, and up the hill of the 190 foot mountain division rolls a steady procession of passenger expresses, locals, milk trains, fast freights and peddlers.  These trains make scheduled station stops, obey block signals, pick up a Pullman or a diner and drop off a boxcar or two at Pineville as if each one had an engineer in the cab and a conductor riding the caboose or coaches.  In a manner of speaking they do, although the conductors work their trains standing beside the track, and the engineers peer down from cabs in a balcony overlooking the pike.

On the Eastern Lines, the top brass for such maneuvers is a salesman who on Thursday nights becomes superintendent of operations.  (The club president is a printer in everyday life, but his is an administrative role and he has no finger in running the road.)  A daytime office manager backs up the super as trainmaster, and a schoolteacher serves as chief dispatcher.

Not all the 30 or so members of the club care about operating jobs.  Some get their fun out of building and maintining the right-of-way and scenery of the 300,000 [illegible]

Nor is it the only club to have such an appropriate setting for its quarters.  The [illegible] club is housed in an old passenger coach donated by the Southern Railroad.  The Lost Boy Model Engineers Society in Oakland Calif. which ranks with the Westchester club as one of the largest is surrounded by the busy and noisy transfer yards of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads.

On one extreme, he may get so seriously involved in the hobby as to build a special room just to house it.  Carl Allen, an Appleton, Pa. jeweler, has a home railroad that is as elaborate as many club pikes.  It copies a real-be coal housing road to exacting detail, and its photomural scenery outdoes most group operations.

On the other extreme are little outfits like the four-by-five-foot railroad jointly operated by Mr. and Mrs. M. A. Pratt in Porterville, Calif.  Their sole motive power is a dockside switcher, and it is likely to catch up with its own caboose if all the rolling stock is coupled on at the same time. 

The methods under which these home roads operate are subject to individual whims.  The sticklers for realism are just as intense about their game as a chess player is about his; there are also those who stick tongue in cheek while they letter engines and cars with fantastic road names like 'Tiny and Tempermental.' 

How does a banker, for instance, get sidetracked into spending his evenings with little railroads instead of relaxing over a tall, cool statement of liquid assets?

It can happen in any number of ways.  Maybe he spots a model railroad hobby shop window display as he strolls to the 5:15, and winds up taking the 5:30 with a $1.95 boxcar kit to try out.  Maybe somebody talks him into taking a look at a club railroad on operating night, and he suddenly gets the urge to hang his name on the extra board. 

Or--and this is a common failing among fathers, both in fact and prospective--he starts out to get a toy train for junior, and the first thing you know, junior is out on a blind siding while father elects himself chairman of the board with hand on the throttle. 

The railroads, needless to say, encourage such goings on.  A model railroader who goes traipsing about the country is likely to ride a train.  If he should get a chance, someday, to ride in the engineer's cab, he has reached a model railroader's Valhalla.

Withness the case, for example of David Manners, 83, director of a New York music school, a railroad buff since he was a youngster .  Mannes talked himself into riding a New Haven electric engine from New York to Westport, Conn., recently and figured he dropped about 70 years from his life.

Men who ride the engines and cabooses every day for a living often feel the urge to run their own railroads in their off hours.  And there is the ironic opposite in Altoona, Pa., a city whose main reason for being, perhaps, is the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Horseshoe Curve. 

Altoona has a busy model railroad club, but at last count, however, there wasn't a single Pennsylvania Railroad man on the roster.  All hands are business men."

Source:  Model Railroading Holds Interest of Many People, Watertown Daily Times, Jan. 5, 1950, p. 4, col. 6.Please Visit the Historic Pelham Web Site
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