Rails From The Past
By David Linton with photos by Edward Hartman Fall, 2016
Many were thrilled in Seattle at the TCA Convention during the summer of 2005 to witness the marvel of the Carlisle & Finch layout on display which was owned by Fritz von Tagen. The layout was built by the late Elbridge Russell and his father in 1905 in their attic in Alameda, California. The layout and its train, a coal mining loco (No. 3) and three coal-hauling dump/coal cars passed to von Tagen at the wish of Mr. Russell’s widow. The layout was removed from the attic in Alameda on 3 sheets of plywood (after removal from the attic floor) in such a way as to remain as it was built.
The train, which is 2-inch gauge, runs on two bands of metal ribbon fastened to wooden ties by insertion into thin slots which hold them in place. The layout is a very complex arrangement of ovals and circles. The train navigates all of the trackage, which includes three 45º crossings, eleven 90º crossings and four switches. As one watches the train traverse the layout from a given vantage point, it runs past the observer three times (four from one standpoint) before making one complete run over the layout. There is also a siding accessed from a switch.
According to C & F catalog “B” No. 9, 1904, one could have a complete layout by purchasing No. 64 outfit. It included the following:
1 No. 3 locomotive
3 dump cars
1 No. 10-R switch
1 No. 10-L switch
1 No. 5 bridge
27 feet track (3 lengths) strip steel
4 Dry Batteries
In addition, this layout in operation as purchased also includes 2 Voltamp switches and 1 Bumper (Voltamp Catalog No. 4 lists these as numbers 2156, 2157 and 2162).
After display at Seattle’s TCA Convention the layout was shipped to New England where it was consigned to New England Toy Train Exchange (NETTE) for auction. Said auction was held in September of 2005 and the layout relocated to its new home in Lancaster, Pa. The layout is now the property of Russell T. McFall, a collector of many wide-gauge and 2 inch gauge trains of various manufacturers: Lionel, Ives, American Flyer, Boucher, Voltamp, Carlisle & Finch and others. He also seeks out historical items that pertain to and exemplify the development of toy trains throughout their long history as toys of great importance.
After its move to Lancaster, the layout was reassembled with long-distance consultation with Fritz von Tagen. All crossings between the three plywood sections were reconnected and many joints were soldered and renewed with care being taken to keep everything like it was. After many hours of work on the layout, which had been placed on special benchwork built to correct specifications for the three sections, all portions were tested for electrical considerations.
December 12, 2005 marks a great day in toy train history as a mining locomotive traversed the layout, running light and bringing great joy to McFall and his friends (Dave and Ed) who had completed the work and the reincarnation of Elbridge Russell’s 1905 Carlisle & Finch railroad.
Since the purchase of the layout, McFall has obtained eight number 3 mining locomotives and some additional rolling stock which will no doubt see life again on the two thin bands of metal ribbon which are literally rails from the past.
The Russell/von Tagen/McFall Carlisle & Finch layout continues to operate successfully. Over the past eleven years the layout remains as originally constructed by Elbridge Russell and his father. The layout serves as a display area for other period trains (1898-1915) while entertaining many visitors.
The most recent addition to the layout, without modification to the original trackage, is a Carlisle & Finch Electric Elevated Railway. Carlisle & Finch offered No. 54 support piers from 1905-1908. The piers are cast-iron, each 10 inches high with cross tie to accommodate steel ribbon track. Carlisle & Finch also offered set No. 98, Elevated Railway, the same years. The set included ten support piers, trolley car No. 42 and a three foot circle of steel ribbon track. The set was powered by four dry cell batteries. This addition of the Elevated Railway increases the thrill of watching the 103 year old layout operate. The benchwork supporting the 8′ X 12′ Carlisle & Finch layout also contains a lower level with three loops of track. These loops are Voltamp, General Train and standard gauge. All three loops have original trains in operation.