American Flyer Displays

New York - 1st Floor Layout 3 - 1954 - 1958
The Super Layout

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1st Floor Layout - Third Layout
Photo courtesy of Ray Mohrlang

This layout was probably Gilbert's crowning achievement. In shape, it was a reverse "J" with its base at the former 5th Avenue entrance, which was closed to make room for the layout. It was reported to have cost a huge sum to build and the expenditure upset some of the stockholders. 1 2

This layout was the last project Frank Castiglione worked on prior to leaving Gilbert to start his hobby shop in Branford, Connecticut.  Ray Mohrlang told me that the Yale University Art Department also played a large part in the creation of this layout.  He also noted that there were 11 loops of track, with pushbuttons at the side of the layout  that could control some of the accessories.  A triple loop circled the entire layout.  It was built at a lower than normal level, especially at the 5th Avenue window, as can be seen in the photo below.  According to Frank Castiglione, that was to make it more accessible to children.

Thanks to Ray, we have several photos of this layout to display here.  Judging from the rolling stock that can be seen in these photos, I would guess that they were probably taken in 1955, shortly after the layout opened.  Some of Ray's other photos of this layout also appear in two articles by Bruce Manson, in the Train Collectors Quarterly. 1 2

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Window View From 5th Avenue - Photo courtesy of Ray Mohrlang

This is one of the few views that demonstrates the fact that the layout was actually a reverse "J" in design as the short end of the "J" is clearly visible on the right.  The Waterfall is visible just above the "S" in "Scale."  The liberal use of mirrors on the walls surrounding the display makes it difficult to ascertain the exact details of the layout, but at the center of this photo, the HO gauge trestle is visible, though it is quite possibly a reflection of the actual trestle.  Also, on the track just below the beginning of the stone arch viaduct, there is an A-A Unit Silver Comet pulling a string of Koppers tank cars.   Ray has seen this train in other shots of the layout and believes it was one of several items created especially for this layout.

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Oil Refinery Area - Photo courtesy of Ray Mohrlang

This photo of the oil refinery area shows another highly detailed scene built to scale standards.  The oil refinery area was one of three areas with its own small loop on which trains could be operated for display.   Push buttons along this area allowed control of trains and accessories.   A three track mainline that circled the entire layout went around the front and back of these three areas which were located on the long side of the reverse "J" along the 25th Street side of the building.  One of the trademark porthole windows can be seen in this photo.  Three dome tank cars date this photo to the 1955-1957 period.

In addition, a dogbone loop inside the three outer loops also ran down the incline shown here and returned by looping under the logging area to the right and coming back up the incline on the inner track which can be seen in back of the train in this photo.  From the photos I have reviewed,  I am fairly certain that this dogbone proceeded in double track form over the viaduct shown in the previous photo.   From there it looped around the hill shown in the third photo, below the HO trains on the trestle, with another  independent loop within it. 

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HO Trestle - Photo courtesy of Ray Mohrlang

This trestle, clearly built to scale standards, was located at the tip of the short end of the reverse "J."  Judging from the rolling stock, This photo is probably taken in 1955 at the beginning of the re-introduction of the HO line.  The freight headed up by the 0-6-0 is pulling 4 freight cars which are all early cars manufactured by Varney for Gilbert to enable a fast re-introduction of the HO line.   These were manufactured only in 1955 and 1956.  The Diesel is a Lackawanna F3 also manufactured by Varney and only in 1955 and 1956.  The portholes are reflections of the 25th Street wall in the mirrored wall at the back of this side of the layout.

The outer S gauge loop below the trestle is probably the return loop of the dogbone that is coming from the viaduct in the first photo.   The inner track is probably part of an independent display loop.

Color photo of long side of layoutColor Photo From Long Side of Layout - Scan courtesy of Daryl Olszeski

This photo appears on the front and back covers of the 2nd edition of How to Build and Operate a Model Railroad by Marshall McClintock.  It has been thought by many to be a shot of a location on the more often photogrphed 2nd floor layout, but it is clearly a shot taken at the spot on the long side of the layout that was in front of the port hole windows that faced 25th Street.  The exact location is the point where the dogbone loop enters a long tunnel to return to the double track viaduct that is visible in photos taken from the 5th Avenue window.  The photo presented was created from stitching the images from both covers together.   The only problem is that part of the full photo should be on the spine, but isn't, so there is a slight gap between the two images that can be seen mostly in the shortened B unit of the Northern Pacific Diesel.

 

1958 Catalog cover

 

After the Hall of Science

We know that the Gilbert Hall of Science closed in 1958 and this layout was presumably dismantled, but one part of it was repurposed, as we can see from looking at the 1958 HO catalog.  In the cover photo on that catalog, the oil field tanks and towers from this layout have been rearranged in the background, but it is obvious where they came from.  A part of the layout lived on, if ever so briefly.

Catalog image courtesy of myflyertrains.org


Notes

1 The Gilbert Hall of Science, by Bruce Manson, with Maury Romer - Train Collector's Quarterly, Fall 1980, Vol. 26, No. 5, page 11 (Photos of this layout throughout the article)  Link to this issue and article in the TCQ (available to TCA members only)

2 The Gilbert Hall of Science - Update and Then Some, by Bruce Manson - Train Collector's Quarterly, October 1992, Vol. 38, No. 5, page 28 (Photos of this layout throughout the article)  Link to this issue and article in the TCQ (available to TCA members only)