The Wreck of the #5344
By Stirling Woodin
It was a dark and stormy night….
Well, not really.
It was a hot and humid Saturday…
…when I visited my friend Jim Battaglia at his home to play with trains.
I invited myself over, on account that my sister and my wife wanted to go to Hershey Park that Saturday, and as I am not a big fan of amusement parks, I opted to play trains at Jim’s house instead.
Jim’s collection of “O” gauge equipment is nicely displayed on shelving around several walls, with the daily “runners” already on the layout. Jim’s layout is a “J” type, with an “027” section, with a loop and a figure eight, on which he had an “027” Texas Special loco TMCC converted, pulling a short train made up of Postwar pieces, and the NYC #2383 GP-9 pulling a contemporary train on the loop.
The main section had one “072” loop, with a raised section and an “054” closed loop, with switchbacks at either end. There are two inclines that allow for access from one level to the other, and several crossovers and service facilities and accessories. The high line had several truss bridges, and will make an excellent photo location, once it’s scenicked. (Hint, hint.) A plaster-of-paris mountain looms in one corner, and both mainlines travel under and through the mountain.
First up was Jim’s new Lionel Pennsy 4-10-2 Texas type #6496, pulling a modern mixed freight consist. Smooth as silk and beautifully detailed; TMCC and Odyssey to boot! Tender as long or longer than the loco, deep moaning whistle, (so soulful I almost needed a moment alone with this baby), and trainphone antennae on the tender. Pulled the freight with no problem, and looked good doing it.
Next up was Jim’s new Lionel 4-6-2 steamer #1361, pulling a four car Lionel Pennsy passenger consist on the highline. Another winner from Lionel, smooth operations and great detailing. Both steamers were Odyssey equipped, so they would climb and descend the inclines without any problems.
After running them smoky for awhile, we got out my #18056 Lionel J1E from 1996, with the Vanderbilt tender, (which the NYC never used. Oh well, the joy of toy trains!). Last time I ran this baby on my home layout the tender truck threw a spark that she stopped responding to TMCC commands, so I put her back in the box, and there she stayed. Jim, with a few “ditz” of the Cab-1, straightened the programming out and we were back in business. Slapped on #19079, the four-car passenger set with the two add on cars, #29007, and she was able to stretch her legs quite a bit. My layout is a 10’x10’ “L” shaped affair, so the loco and the six cars literally chases it’s tail. She normally gets to run with the full six car consist only at Christmas time.
Now this loco is not up there with the great tree stump pullers so she really spins the drivers getting this train started, which is OK by me, as the real steamers did much the same in regular service. Let her rip on the “072” main and she was smokin’ like a house afire, steam emanating from the steam chests and wafting up the side of the smoke box and mingling with the stack smoke.
We let her do a few laps, and then tried to get her up the grade to the highline. She stalls about half way up, and I get ready to give her an “0-5-0” assist, when Jim slaps my hand away, grabs a Cab-1, and gently brings the Pennsy Texas behind for a shove. (Ah, the beauty of command control railroading!) With a gentle nudge, my NYC passenger train makes it up the grade, and onto the highline. After a few laps, we bring her back down into the low country, and then it’s back to the speedway “072” loop.
We start to get cocky and dispatch the Texas powered freight train to chase the passenger train. Lots of fun, but our attention is then drawn to the Lionel service station Alco C-420. Jim is showing me its’ dead slow capabilities without Odyssey, when we both realize that we have two trains running on the mainline without operator supervision. Jim throws the yard switch from his Cab-1, and the Texas dives into the hole.
We look back at the Alco, which by now has moved about 6” in the space of about three minutes, when we hear an enormous crash!
Yikes! Jim left the rear yard lead open, and my J1E has just rear-ended the Pennsy freight at speed!
The Pennsy N5C caboose is literally suspended in mid air, with the back end resting on the smoke box of the “J”, and the front end is crushed up against a Feather River route boxcar, which is itself sideways across the yard lead.
Several boxcars and flatcars are strewn about the yard, and my “J” tender, and the first three passenger cars leaning at a 45-degree angle to the track.
The “J” is quietly resting on a dwarf signal that has had its cover knocked off.
Horrified? Mortified? Stunned? Not us. We both break out into fits of laughter at our joint stupidity at having done such a rookie mistake by leaving the switches open. We grab our digital cameras and document the scene thoroughly, and proceed to get the big hook to the crash scene to clean up the mess.
Trains back on the tracks, we do a few more laps, and I put the “J” to bed.
We break out my Lionel RS-11 in D&H paint, and Jim proceeds to do a Pennsy Texas/RS-11 lash up. Or so we thought. After several laps, Jim realizes that he did not command the RS-11 to recognize the lash up address, and the steamer has been dragging the Alco and it’s train around without even breaking a sweat, thanks to the Odyssey system! Jim reassigns the RS-11, and NOW we are running a true consist. Jim puts a 736 with TMCC, a Scout with TMCC, and a shorty Lionel diesel switcher with TMCC on the main, and we take turns stealing each other’s locos, and generally acting like 7 year olds. I was just waiting for Jim’s wife to yell down the stairs “What are you two guys up to down there?” and we would reply “Nothing.” Yeah, right.
Our day was coming to a close, so I packed up my toys, (and several of Jim’s jems, which he spotted on the way to the car, so I had to give them back.)
I picked up the wife, and she and my sister were two tired pups, having stood out in the hot sun all day waiting to get on rides, whilst I was in a cool basement, sipping suds and runnin’ trains.
A good day was had by all.