model train set on track

From Years of Collecting and Interest Across the Pond!

e*Train Issue: Jan 2019   |   Posted in:

Photo from Train Collectors Quarterly, January 2005.

By Carol McGinnis TCA 95-41066Winter 2019 

Continuing the series of Oral History reporting, this interview was done with Robert (Bob) Marshall (TCA CM-37)* in October, 2009. Being one of the 68 Charter Members, Bob shared his thoughts and memories about what made TCA what it is today, and where we are going into tomorrow. Bob, and his wife, Bunny, met with me to talk about what they remembered. 

Eastern Division:
Bob is a member of Eastern Division and of the WB&A chapter. “We heard about other people too, some from the West Coast and some from around here, and that there was going to be a get-together.” This was when TCA started. 

“I think that was the very beginning of the Eastern Division, and at the meets we saw that the crowds kept getting bigger and bigger. And they filled up each hall we rented pretty quick. We initially met in Hershey, and went from there to the Cow Palace which was on Rt. 30, just east of Hershey. And then we had to move from the Cow Palace, which we also outgrew. Bunny, did we go from there to the Blue Hall? At that point, well it wasn’t called the Blue Hall. It was just the (York) Fairgrounds. And here we were, when we all walked in to what’s now the Blue Hall, it was funny, really funny.  We walked into the hall and said ‘My God! We’ll never fill it up!’ There was so much room, and it was so large. Well, needless to say it wasn’t too long after that it filled it up. It seriously didn’t take too long.

“Then the division went from there to the hall next door, which is now Silver Hall.  From there we spread into a hall up above, what we call the Red Hall. And everybody was (really upset). There were assignments to the Red Hall, and members didn’t want to go there. And it just, well it just kept expanding. Eastern Division has a success on its hands and it became the greatest train show.”

Bob didn’t belong to any other clubs, figuring that some people wanted him to get into some other railroad club and he would say, “One was enough. I’d rather stick with the one.”  TCA won out!

WB&A Logo from their newsletter

WB&A Chapter:
“The WB&A Chapter was formed at a later date. And I don’t remember the exact date, but Al Roth (TCA CM-55) and a couple others went to the National to petition to be a new division.  I think the National meeting was up in Cleveland, but I’m not sure. Joe Weatherly (TCA 60-472) and Dan Danielson (TCA 65-1226) disagreed and were able to have it denied.   So that’s when we became a chapter. Let me see if I’m getting ahead of myself. Backtracking a little bit. Where were we at that time? I know some of the early WB&A meets we had at the 4H, so that would have been a chapter meet.

“As I remember it, the story about WB&A started down in Al Roth’s (TCA CM-55) basement.  Al would gather people in his home.  They would come in on Fridays or Saturdays, usually Saturdays. There’d be anywhere from eight to ten people, something like that.  These guys would buy trains from him or sell him trains. And then he eventually proposed, ‘Let’s have a get-together.’  So, having invited these people to come in and have a meeting, a get-together, he then proposed forming a TCA division.   He really wanted us to be able to get together. Al Roth was very, very helpful to me.”

Bob’s First Train:

Bob recounts that “‘I screamed bloody murder!’ when at 8 months Dad bought me a train.  I don’t know why he wanted to buy a train, but he bought me a train. At eight months old there is a suggestion that he bought it for himself. ” (There’s a reference from the Train Collectors Quarterly January, 1958, Vol. 4: No.1. to a cartoon in the Saturday Evening Post from November 23, 1957 where the woman standing at the toy counter says that “The boy is eight and his father is thirty-two!” Does this ring true for anyone?) 

“It was an American Flyer, Standard (Wide) Gauge. And it was, I think, a 419. But it was a box cab American Flyer with the baggage, Pullman and Observation cars. I got it at Christmas, 1927 as a baby!  After that, Dad bought me some Standard gauge freight cars, a lumber car, a gondola, a cattle car and a caboose, all Standard Gauge 200 series. This is when we lived in Lansing, Michigan.

“I also remember when I was about six years old I wanted a certain train.  My father bought me the Union Pacific, the red and brown one, which was 072. And then the following year I got the Hiawatha freight set, 072 both from Lionel.”

Bob and his dad loved to go around to see friends who had toy trains at Christmas time. You know, the whole nine yards.  It was such a fun time.

Charter Member Memories and the start of TCA:

Bob also remembers the first train he bought from Burt Logan (TCA CM-1).   Bob met Lou Redman (TCA CM-3) when he and his wife, Bunny, moved to Pittsburgh in April of 1953.  He used to go through the magazines and he saw Lou’s ad in Railroad Model Craftsman. Of course that was when Lou and his family lived on Harrison Avenue in Avalon, just outside Pittsburgh. “I went over and saw your Dad and I know I bought a train set, but I can’t remember which one it was. And of course I met your Mom, Jody, and went down into the basement where he had the trains displayed.

“We moved from Pittsburgh back to Washington DC and, of course, kept in touch with Lou. He informed me that there was going to be a meeting, a get-together at Ed Alexander’s barn. I’m not precise, but it was about June of 1954. Ed Alexander (TCA CM-4) called a bunch of guys together. Lou started taking notes and things like that. He kept track by getting the names of the people that were there, that sort of thing and out of that really started the club. After that he came back to me and said, ‘Give me five bucks and I’ll put your name in,’ and that’s the way I became a charter member, which was ok with me. I didn’t go to the first couple meets, you know, or the conventions, but eventually I did. I met the guys and they were very interesting people, very interesting.”

When asked who he met, Bob pulled out an old TCA Directory.  He remembers that there was Jim McKercher (TCA CM-39). “Jim McKercher had an interesting quirk.  He would pick up an item that he was going to buy, but he’d never pay for it until the very end of the meet. But he would carry it around with him the whole time under his arm. Yeah, Jim was a real nice guy, real nice guy. And let’s see, what else?

“And as an aside, while we were still in the apartment, Lou used to come over with Marius Rousseau (TCA CM-56) and Ray (Uncle Gabby) Galbraith (TCA CM-20). And Rousseau used to go to sleep. He was something else. And Galbraith would giggle the whole time. He was a character.  But that was how I became a charter member of TCA through the efforts of your dad putting my name through.”

All in the Family:

Bob and Bunny have three children.  Chips (Bruce G. Marshall, TCA 73-5595)**is in TCA. He loved to attend meets, talk with people, and buy and sell trains and train books. Sharon M. Marshall (TCA 08-63067) was also a TCA member. So they’re both interested in trains and what it brings to the family. Sharon joined so that she could go in and out of meets with Bob as a member. This really brought father and daughter closer together. 

Chips collects Biller-Bahn which is a German manufacturer and also Japanese trains. He’s also into PT boats, and has as many PT boats here at the house as he does trains.

So what does Bob collect now?

Bob likes Athearn HO model trains. “It was this scale stuff that really got my attention and kept me interested and learning that HO went back into the 1920’s.  Here (in Silver Spring, Maryland) Bunny and I would go in to Washington DC when we were first married. The main department stores there were Woodward and Lothrop’s, and Hecht’s which had a big presence in DC. Kann’s, as well, was well known for their Christmas displays.  Bunny worked at the Tea Room at Woodie’s and Bob worked in the Toy Department with the trains in the fall of 1948.  The Toy Department took up an entire floor at the store! They had a huge, huge toy display. At Christmas time they went all out.  They had a track where you could see and run the trains.”

Hecht’s department store located at 7th and F St, NW, Washington, D.C. from 1924 to the 1980s. Photo from AgnosticPreachersKid.

Woodward and Lothrop (Woodies) circa 1910. Wikipedia

Bob now collects Hornby trains.  Hornby is an English manufacturer that has been doing business since 1901. He has a rare Hornby Passenger set (which is currently on display at the National Toy Train Museum.)  In general, Bob likes it all. He has a couple of valuable pieces. One was made for the Canadian market. It’s called a Canadian Pacific 2800. It’s just a locomotive and tender with the box that it came in, the original box. Originally the Hornby concept was going to increase the set with passenger cars, but they never did.

Bob always wanted to go to England after a friend introduced him to the Hornby line while he was still in college. “This guy was English and I liked these trains very much and got involved with it. This fellow actually drew up a design for me of an English type engine. I ended up making it in shop class, getting hell for it with the instructor, and then he painted it for me. It was Gus Johnson (TCA?).He was an early member. He was a captain in the Navy and he was captured by the Japanese during WWII in the Philippines.

“I’ve always liked the electric type engines. This one may have been an electric type. I can’t remember specifically.”

Names from the Past:

Bob knew of Ed Alexander, but didn’t really know him as a friend.  He did meet Louis Hertz when C. P. Johnson (TCA CM-28) brought him over to the Bethesda apartment.  CP and Louis would stop by their apartment in Bethesda.  “Louis had a locomotive I wanted real bad and we made a trade. It was a 156X was the locomotive I got. And Louis picked out what he was interested in from my collection, what he would take in trade. And of course, you know, I was getting the raw end of the deal, but I wanted that 156.”

Some of the other names include Bill Vagell (TCA 61-536). Bill would come to the national meets and things like that.  He was a real character. He was the one that started selling replacement wheels, Standard gauge wheels. He would come to the meets and say ‘Wheels for sale! Wheels for sale!.’ I knew about Al Cox (TCA 65-1385), and Evan Middleton (TCA CM-2), heard about Bill Krames (TCA CM-6) and, of course I knew Burt Logan (TCA CM-1).”

“Bill Bateman (TCA 63-977) was a fairly early member and we used to go to some of the meets together.  Now he was, in later years, he and I were like brothers, very, very close. Nick Ladd (TCA 63-913) was also an old timer. He was a very close personal friend. Of course at, in the earlier meets, Don Speidel (TCA CM5-92) was a character. Jimmy Stuart (TCA 58-302), from Virginia was another old timer and Chester Holley (TCA CM-25) was something else.” There are memories about each of these early members with whom Bob came to know.

“Karl Rammling (TCA 66-1685), and Larry House (TCA 71-4063) used to go to a Wednesday Lunch group. He and Bill Bateman, together with Gene Handler (TCA 59-379) used to go up to York together and do different things up there, and they went to some of the national conventions together.”

And on the future of TCA:

“I think that there’ll always be antique people that like antiques. In their collections they may have some trains or they may want a little variation, something like that. Landon, our grandson, likes trains. And I expect that he will be somebody that would eventually stay with the trains possibly collecting them.

“There’ll be a different type of future because we’ll have different trains. We have to have some type of rapid rail, because we can’t have all these cars on the road like we do now. So some of the trains that we thought people collect now that aren’t old are going to be old. Some of the modern items will become collectible. And with so many people operating and running the modern stuff there is going to be a market. After that you’ll see these people will show an interest because of what they’ve seen and been exposed to. They will look for and ask for these new trains in production.

“No one knows what they’ll look like, but won’t it be exciting?”

 * Sadly, Robert Marshall passed away on October 3, 2011.
**Chips Marshall passed away on November 17, 2018.