model train set on track

York, York, The Gang’s All Here!

e*Train Issue: Mar 2002   |   Posted in:

York, PA — October 18-20, 2001

by Bob LeBras

Another beautiful weekend in eastern Pennsylvania has come and gone with the close of the Fall York 2001 train meet on October 19 and 20. Many trains were traded, talked about and touched, good friends revisited and new ones met, and excellent local cuisine sampled. For the railfan, toy train collector, or tourist, it would be hard work to have a bad time here.

This, my third York in a row, has become an autumn ritual. Strapped into the Urban Assault Vehicle (UAV; my pickup truck), I headed east on Thursday morning. My mission was to arrive at the TCA National Toy Train Museum in Strasburg by 1:00 p.m. Since this was my first time driving (I went by train previously), I didn’t have an exact idea of how long it would take. I figured if I kept the accelerator pedal pressed as close to the floor for as long as possible, I would arrive near the scheduled start of the Internet Committee meeting. In fact, I made the drive in sufficient time check in at the motel and unload excess baggage. After some last minute directions, I found the museum amidst Amish farmlands at 12:58 p.m.

Parking the UAV out back near the corn, I walked around to the front entrance. This was my first visit to the museum, and it was neat to experience all of the things I had only seen and read about in the Quarterly, including the walkway bricks donated by members to sponsor the building addition.

Entering the museum, the atrium is a beautiful peaked structure bathed in natural light filtering through the glazed ceiling and front facade. Although the overall building is not relatively large, the lofty openess of the entrance, combined with the effective use of angles and centerpieces in the area housing the toy train collection, tricks the eye into believing it is a much larger space. I felt a certain sense of pride that this Association, my Association, had built this house.

I met Internet Committee Chairman, Mike Frieders, inside the doorway and introduced myself. Apparently, I was the first to arrive and we chatted abit. There were a ton of people inside the atrium milling about, drinking the complimentary beverages, and listening to the K-Line presentation. Each of the Big Three, K-Line, MTH and Lionel, would take their turn speaking to Association members. Mike suggested that, since the other committee members had not shown up, I walk around the museum and we would meet in the library at 2:00 p.m. Anticipating seeing many great toy trains, I enthusiastically agreed and headed for the collection.

Truly, the museum has amassed an amazing variety of toy trains of every description ranging from historic prewar pieces to the latest state-of-the-art units. The static displays were fascinating and the operating layouts delighted kids of all ages. I became transfixed on the monitor displaying Choo Choo Cam equipped locomotive traveling around the O gauge layout. I always thought the concept of a camera on a train was abit over-the-top, but realized that I have a television in my trainroom and it would be a really neat addition.

The appointed hour arrived as did the New York contingent of our committee. We filed into the library to have our first meeting, and I noted that there was ample seating for the members conducting research, or just perusing the extensive materials. We initially planned the gathering as an introductory session, but, with so many good minds filled with ideas, it was hard to contain our enthusiam. The Internet Committee laid the foundations for many plans concerning the Association’s online presence.

On my way inside the museum, I passed a curious looking contraption. It was some type of small engine mounted on a trailer and attached to a series of belts. Although it said John Deere on the side, it sure didn’t look like a tractor. Whatever it was, it was strange and old, yet well-preserved.

The owner started the motor and it sputtered to life. I had heard Tin Lizzies that sounded better and it reminded me of the Little Engine That Could. After some tinkering and tweaking, the engine settled into a rhythmic pattern of maintaining sufficient compression to stay alive. As one who enjoys both machinery and antiques, I was fascinated by this odd chugger, and I wondered what could possibly be the connection between a John Deere engine and toy trains.

When they poured the milk, I knew exactly what this was all about. The entire unit was making ice cream. Then, it dawned on me that this engine must have been some kind of multi-purpose device; the food processor of its day. Pretty neat, and the fresh ice cream was good too. The connection was clear: Food and trains.

One of my missions on this trip was to find my brick in the museum’s sidewalk. The Museum Committee came up with an inspired fundraising idea to sell bricks to the Association membership allowing them to be inscribed with the message of choice. The profits from the sales of these bricks would help raise money for the museum expansion including the new entrance atrium. I had eagerly purchased one of these bricks, but I really wanted to see it in place.

Without a map to guide me directly to it, I started reading them one at a time beginning near the doorway. It didn’t take long to find my little piece of the museum, “Robert LeBras. Trains Forever.” Mission accomplished.

After the Internet Committee meeting, we stayed and watched the Lionel presentation. We visited with Past, Present and Future TCA presidents and chatted with Dick Maddox. We enjoyed the ice cream and terrific cookie selection, but, most of all, we relished good friendships in a truly remarkable hall of trains.

Several of us walked (alright, we really drove) nextdoor to the Red Caboose Motel. This interesting little Strasburg landmark features prototype cabeese, decorated in a variety of roadnames, that you can rent for overnight stays. A quaint idea, but I’ve never been inside a crummy that I wanted to call home, even temporarily. We took some photos and had dinner at the motel’s restaurant.

The rooster sounded early on Friday morn. Had to rise and shine for my first Breakfast At York. I flew down Route 30 til I hit the York rush hour traffic. Turning off this most annoying road in the state, I began to feel like a pro as I weaved through surface streets avoiding most of the traffic entering the Fairgrounds. With the UAV parked near the Yellow Hall, I grabbed my camera, cellphone and belt bag, and headed for the dining hall. I passed Frank “Schmeer” Samaritano in the parking lot talking on his ubiquitous cellphone. He directed me to the back of the hall to meet up with my party.

Lo and behold, the gang’s all here. There’s The Internet Committee, Chip and Marty, Lloyd and several others all wondering why I’m a half hour late. Hey, this is supposed to be a vacation, guys! No rest for the weary (and slightly hungover) traveler.

Lloyd Wisner and I had chatted prior to the meet and, as promised, he brought along his slides taken during the last decades of street-level trolley service in Pittsburgh. I promised to create a web page to display them. I didn’t get any breakfast because we split up shortly after I arrived, but who needs to eat when thar be trains here? I wondered what I was going to do for the next half hour, then I looked down at my name badge. Duh! I had a dealer tag for the Purple Hall. Ted had asked if he could send my meet registration with his in order to obtain another table. I gladly accepted with the bonuses for me being free attendance and early admittance to the hall. I simply walked around the rather long line and the security guard at the hall entrance and found Ted setting up in his usual spot.

Being the ever helpful sort, I asked if he required any assistance. Ted declined, so I set about walking around the hall in peace while the dealers made their final preparations. I went directly over to my good buddies at Classic Toy Trains and snagged a couple of their show buttons. Apparently, these always go quickly and, as I was picking up a button upon the request of an individual unable to attend the meet, it was good to scratch that item off the itinerary early on. Later in the day, I noted that CTT only had stickers left to distribute.

About 10 minutes later, the flood gates were opened and TCA members swarmed in every direction like bees in a flower garden. After spending some time hanging around the table chatting with Ted and Mike Wolfe (we call him the original Mike Wolfe), gawking at the chick across the aisle, and watching the Master’s of Toy Train Sales work their magic on innocent passersby, I went to a couple of the nearby halls to check out the selection. As I was heading towards the Yellow Hall, I heard the announcement over the PA system, “Al Schwartz is at the Silver Hall registration desk.”

I chuckled to myself, “Al had himself paged.”

I figured The Internet Committee would all be there and, as I hadn’t seen Al since Summer 2001 in Baltimore, I headed on over to hook up with everyone. Al had some devastating photos from Ground Zero in NYC, and Bob Mintz carried a newspaper article with a photo of his heavily damaged apartment building very close to the World Trade Center site. It was great to have good friends safely together at the center of the toy trains universe.

We poked and prodded around that various halls, spending time looking at MTH’s layout in a trailer, checking out the DCS setup, chatting with O Gauge Railroading’s Myron Biggar, and buying scenery in the Gold Hall. I became enamored with the Aristocraft G gauge trains and, for the price, wondered why I had ever gotten into O gauge. For a mere $225, I could have a massive locomotive AND caboose. Food for thought. We also ran into our good buddies (we have many “good buddies”) from the other club and exchanged pleasantries. I saw Horace “The Horrible,” that I had the pleasure of meeting in Baltimore, a couple of times at the CoolTrains table trying to Presbyterian Ted down on his already rock-bottom price for a Thomas The Tank set. Go away.

Also, in the Gold Hall, I found my long-sought PRR novelty license plate for the front of the UAV. My exclamation of “Finally!” amused the vendor. I gladly paid the $10 asking price.

Returning back at base camp, I hung out with the CoolTrains dudes for awhile. Ted had to go do some family thing, so I said “ciao” and found The Internet Committee, yet again. We joined Dennis Clad and his wife for dinner at Cracker Barrel. After meal entertainment was provided by a gentleman in our party performing some really neat magic tricks.

Heading back to the Comfort Inn, I decided to hit the bar for Coronas and catch up on some train magazine reading. Occasionally, I would pause to listen to the Oldies band belting out tunes or catch a passing miniskirt. It was getting late and I hit the sack for another early toy trains wakeup call.

Saturdays are always far more laid back at York. With the New York clan nowhere to be found, I stayed with Ted until he packed it in to attend more family obligations. I didn’t buy much this time around, but I just don’t have much room left on my layout. It’s time to finally get busy with scenery. One of my primary goals, fixing a stubborn Lionel #494 Rotating Beacon that would not rotate, was accomplished with parts from the trusty parts guy in the Purple Hall.

I wandered the halls for a little while longer watching the mass exodus of trains and people. Melancholy and exhaustion filled the air as the familiar quiet settled over the Fairgrounds. It was time to leave, but still early afternoon. Plenty of time left to head back to that tiny railfan town of Strasburg, provided traffic cooperated.

No story of the still quite rural Amish County would be complete without mentioning Route 30. This little connector section between York and Lancaster is the most ridiculous mess of a roadway I have ever driven. Undergoing mega-reconstruction after decades of neglect, it is a high speed drag track, befitting any New York City avenue, that abruptly dumps off into monumental traffic at either end. Signal after signal makes driving, particularly eastbound, an absolute nightmare. This was Saturday, and the backup was as bad as any rush hour jam I have seen in Pittsburgh. Good job, PennDOT.

I turned off the, now, two-lane Route 30 and, for a second time, swerved the twisting, narrow roads through smelly Amish farmlands popping into the outskirts of Strasburg. First, I visited the train shop at the Choo Choo Barn. It was quite an anticlimatic experience seeing full retail prices after having just come from the Great Train Orgy. I felt as if this was the Great Train Robbery.

Next, I went to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and put my digital camera to good use. It was truly grand to revisit this wonderful and impressive place housing touchable relics from railroading’s glorious past.

Finally, I walked across the street to the Strasburg Railroad; itself, a working railroad museum. Although I opted not to ride the train, I did walk the grounds extensively securing many memorable shots.

As the sun slowly set in the west, things were winding down in this sleepy, yet traffic-filled, little community. Time to head back to the hotel for dinner and Corona. I’d do some more reading and turn-in early for a fresh start, and a long drive back to Pittsburgh.

The original plan was to meet Ted at the shop after railfanning, but he indicated on the phone that he was exhausted. I couldn’t say I blamed him. Ted suggested that I take a detour on my way home and visit the Norfolk Southern yard at Enola, near Harrisburg. Sounded like a plan to me.

Sunday morning was crisp and clear. For a third straight year, I had been blessed with good York weather. I left the hotel around 9:00 a.m. and headed nextdoor to the shopping plaza. I was running low on “film” (floppy disks), and wanted to make sure I had plenty in reserve for any good angles at Enola. Fortunately, the CVS was open and had what I needed.

Driving north towards Harrisburg, I took Route 11/15 to Enola. Turning left at the Susie-Q, I found the most spectacular view of Pennsylvania’s capitol city I had ever seen; click, click.

The trains were very quiet at the Enola yard, but I preserved the site electronically. I drove up and down the surrounding area looking for trains, but found none. It was now noon, and time to make the trek back to Da Burgh. Cruising the PA Turnpike, I got the idea to photograph all of the tunnels along the route as I approached them. Certainly, it was no easy task to drive and properly zoom the camera to get a decent shot. At least that’s one less thing I’ll have to do again in my lifetime.

Arriving back in familiar territory, I drove the bug encrusted UAV to my parent’s home and picked up my two feline buddies. We got back just in time for the finale of the annual Fall York ritual, leaf raking. It’s a tradition!