model train set on track


e*Train Issue: Mar 2023   |   Posted in:

By Mike Marmer, TCA# 92-35192

This is about a custom painted and decaled American Flyer Box car that my train friend, Bill Drake, saw on eBay and sent me the link.  Bill knows that I do have a collection of American Flyer trains and a layout in DCC, running S Helper products with S Helper engines.  2 are smoking engines, American Models engines and even converted American Flyer engines, including a Hudson with the smoke unit working to DCC.

Mike’s Train House, put out some S product, after they bought the molds for S Helper Products, and I was lucky to get a C&O Diesel ABA with DCC before the sold off the business.

The car is a American Flyer car, painted and decaled as a Turtle Creek Central and painted a Tucson Red color.  The railroad company logo is “Route of the Dashing Turtle” with a dashing looking turtle wearing a top hat and decorative cane.  There might be a black bow tie behind worn by the dashing turtle.  Since I went to a University that their logo was a terrapin, which is a species of a turtle.  The terrapin is associated with the University of Maryland and he is a well-loved mascot named Testudo.  Test-too-dough is sort of how it is pronounced.  Close enough.

Here’s my wife Linda with a cutout of Testudo at the 2019 Maryland Homecoming.

The car that Bill saw on eBay pictured on the layout.

The box car was a buy it now and it was not very much money for sale, maybe around 50 dollars plus shipping and tax.  There was a problem with the car for me, the wheels and coupler are scale wheels and I run high rail cars (American Flyer products).  I also have Lionel products that are high rail too.  Scale wheels do not go through my switches on the layout.

The track is made by Classic Trains, as is the ballast.  Roger Carp, from CTT, told me this is the best ballast he has seen, it’s crushed stone in scale.  Ballast really makes the layout. 

And then the couplers.  They do not work with high rail couplers cars.  But no matter, I bought the car due to the turtle/terrapin connection.  It could be a conversation/shelve piece.

I told Bill that I bought the car.  Then I asked him, if he was interested in the car, as I did not mean to take it away from him.  He politely and truthfully said no, as he really thought of me when he saw this car.  I thanked him, that was very kind of him to do, as I no longer look at American Flyer product on eBay since I pretty much collected all the product of American Flyer I was trying to accomplish, purchase pieces to complete the 1958 catalog of sets, not a easy task to do.  I did build some set before and after 1958.

The car came and it is really a neat car.  I looked at the frame, wheels, and couplers and I thought – I could convert this car back to high rail.

I took the floor off with the wheels and couplers attached to the floor.  Inside the car, I can see the primer the maker of the decaled car used.

The frame for the decaled car, towel is from my college days in the 70s, they tie in.  It is spray painted as the same color of the car.

So, now I need to find a victim of American Flyer cars of no real value that I could use as a sacrifice of that American Flyer car, for the transplant to the Turtle Creek Central.  I did google the name Turtle Creek Central Railroad to see what I could find on line about this possible real railroad and found some things related to this car, in a way.

Kalmbach Publishing has a 30-page book on how to make the 4 x 8 foot HO Turtle Creek Central layout.  Micro-Scale has decals for N, HO and O gauge, no S.  The decals on this S gauge car look perfect.  There is even a Turtle Creek creek in California.  A real Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad that closed in 2009.

So, this car is what would be called a “Fantasy” item when dealing with fake milk bottle for collectors.  The car is not a fake overall.


I found a common 947 NP Refrigerator car to declassified from being a High Rail car to a Scale car.

When I was taking these pictures in 2021, I did not take a picture with the High Wheel flooring with trucks and couplers.

The Turtle Creek Central car with the transplant of flooring with trucks and couplers.  Glare from overhead lighting.  The transplant was a success.  The patient is cleared for being used on the layout.

It’s alive!

The Turtle Creek Central now resides outside of the American Flag Co. waiting for it first use on the D&K Railroad.

The donor car, the American Flyer 947 refrigerator car made a speedy recovery from the switch.

Side view

Underneath view

Now I have a very rare variation of an AF 947 Refrigerator car.  Just kidding.  It will go with the other cars on the shelf. Just kidding about it being rare!


Now I was puzzled in who actually made the car, where the underneath frame came from, and where the wheels and couplers came from.  I do know that there is S Scale product in the market place.  I never asked the seller if he or she knew the history of this Turtle Creek Central car but I was able to find out who made the parts.  I think it was Don Thompson, former owner of S Helper Service, who told me the person’s name.

His name was Walter Graeff.

From an edition of a National Association of S Gaugers magazine with a list of people, I believe, who were important in the growth of S Gauge.  I believe Don Thompson was on that list for his and his partner, Mike, who produced a very detail, affordable S gauge product.

Don Thompson who founded S Helper Service with his partner Mike, had a model train business in S gauge, scale.  Don gave me the following information about Walter and the cars he produced using his Ace parts.

Walter tried to sell Don parts for his Train Stuff Railbox Company.  He only bought Walter’s roller bearing trucks and boxcar bolsters.  Josh Seltzer told Don the story on how Walter got Lionel to make a run of American Flyer 40-foot PRR X29 boxcars and 3 bay open top hopper shelves.  Walter already had American Flyer replacement underframes for a boxcar, stock and refrigerator car for the Ace line of S gauge/scale parts he stocked.  But Walter needed the American Flyer shells, unpainted cars to complete a piece of rolling stock as a whole unit.  The shells just needed to be spray painted and then decaled by the end user for complete car for a layout.

The three bay hoppers that were made are extremely rare.  Walter found someone at Lionel who told him if he purchased a day’s run of the injection molding machine, they would clean the tooling and produce, which would be 5,000 units. 

Walter purchased both, 5,000 of the box car and 5,000 of the 3 bay hopper.  Josh Seltzer bought most and painted the bodies.  His wife Barb lettered the cars with decals and/or dry transfers. Together they added underframes or bolsters, trucks, and couplers, either AF compatible or KD #5, the wheels were AF compatible or code 125 scale. They sold thousands of decorated cars like this as Seltzer’s. Someone from Ohio, I think Scott Engineering, had a covered hopper top tooled for the three bay hopper and had a bunch painted and printed for Morton Salt. I would see these for sale at York. Later Josh told me that the Lionel employee was let go for their decision.

A photo of Mr. Graeff.

Mr. Graeff owned Hobby House Hobbies Shop.  His product lives on, on my layout, the D&K Railroad. The car does have high rail S Helper wheels on the trucks.

And the donor car for the Turtle Creek Central car is revived!