New York - 1st Floor Layout 2
- 1945 - 1954
The Railroad Empire
Catalog illustration from the 1946 American Flyer Consumer Catalog courtesy of myflyertrains.net
Click on the illustration to examine it in greater detail.
The Catalog Layout was Real
This layout was pictured in the 1946 through 1949 catalogs, but was never identified. Based on his memories and a review of certain elements in the catalog illustration, Bruce Manson believed that this layout, in its original form, was an O gauge layout and the second in a sequence of three layouts that occupied the first floor of the New York Hall of Science between its opening in 1941 and its closing in 1958. He believed that what appeared in these catalogs was an artist's rendering based on a photograph of the actual Hall of Science layout in its 3 rail state. He noted that the caboose at the lower left in the catalog illustration and one of the gondolas were clearly O gauge models. Finally, the man in the photographs building the layout was one of the New York Hall of Science salesmen. Bruce thought that this layout lasted until about 1953 or 1954 and remembers the track being changed to two rail when he visited the Hall of Science in March 1946. He was invited to return in the afternoon to see something "he had never seen before," namely the first American Flyer engines with smoke. 1 2 Changing the track work from O to S shouldn't have been too difficult as American Flyer O gauge track had the same 20 inch radius (40 inch diameter) as American Flyer S gauge track.
The exact year when this layout was constructed is not documented, but our best estimate is mid 1945, based on research by contributor Earl Hunt. First of all, that dating agrees with Bruce Manson's memories documented in the 2nd of the two articles cited above. (see page 32). In addition, Roar of the Rails, a promotional booklet published by Gilbert in 1944, includes an illustration of the earlier layout, which would probably not have been done had the layout been replaced by that time. That booklet was an example of Gilbert's efforts to keep their toy line, and particularly American Flyer, in the public eye during the war. In addition, their wartime advertising invited visits to the Hall of Science, where the public would expect to see an operating American Flyer layout. They most likely figured that the existing layout could serve that purpose while trains were not available for sale. The imminent end of the war in 1945 may have provided the impetus to replace the layout. That was the year when the prospect of offering trains for sale again first presented itself. Gilbert still had stocks of O gauge trains to sell before it could get into it's S gauge line, so an O gauge layout would still be needed. While S gauge was on the horizon, they didn't have anything to offer yet. It is possible that the layout was planned with the idea of later conversion as was eventually done.
Bruce Manson had not been able to find any photos of this layout to confirm his theory, at least as of his last article on the Hall of Science in 1992. For several years I have displayed the two photos below on this page as they were the only ones I was able to find. Unfortunately both of these photos are only partial overviews of the layout looking out the 5th Ave window, but what they show is consistent with Bruce Manson's theory as the layouts appear quite similar to the catalog illustration.
Click on the photos to view them in full size
I also discussed this layout with the late Ray Mohrlang and he thought that Bruce Manson was basically correct in his theories about the conversion of the layout from 3 rail to 2 rail in 1946. The design of the layout, with its dual "wye" tracks which essentially form two overlapping reverse loops, seems to be a vestige of its 3 rail roots. Ray noted that in 1946, Gilbert had no system yet to operate 2 rail trains over such trackage without extensive operator involvement, thus making this a less than ideal display layout. In looking at the first photo above, the reverse loop area is visible at the lower right side and the "wye" tracks do not seem to be present. Possibly they were eliminated when the layout was converted to 2 rail track.
Recently Lonny Beno brought to my attention photos he had found while perusing the TCA Reference Library online. These photos were obtained by the TCA Library in 1994, so they were not available to Bruce Manson when he wrote his update article in the October 1992 issue of the Train Collectors quarterly. Thanks to the TCA's online catalog, we now have access to these unique historical photographs which serve to document and confirm Bruce Manson's research on this subject.
Shown below are some additional photos of this layout under
construction which appeared in the
|Photos courtesy of Clay and Charlie Buckage
1 The Gilbert Hall of Science, by Bruce Manson, with Maury Romer - Train Collector's Quarterly, Fall 1980, Vol. 26, No. 5, page 11 at pages 16 & 17 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. No. 5, page 28 at pages 32 & 33 Link to this issue and article in the TCQ (available to TCA members only)