American Flyer at the Russian River, California
By Dale Smith
The Russian River is a resort area approximately 75 miles north of San Francisco. In the 1950's it was the place where my family invariably spent a week each summer. We stayed at Johnson's Resort in Guerneville, California. It was a great vacation spot, swimming in the river every day, taking cruise boats between Johnson's Beach and Rio Nido, seeing movies at the local theater. The only negative was that I had to leave my American Flyer trains at home, but that didn't mean that I had to do without American Flyer trains.
One year sometime in the early 50's, I discovered an amusement arcade on Main Street in town that had something I had never seen before, a display of American Flyer trains behind a glass wall with a bank of controllers lined up in front of it. For what I recall was a dime, you could pick a controller with a number that matched the number on the train you wanted to operate. The controllers were American Flyer 12B transformers spaced out along the wall in front of the enclosure. At the time, I wasn't familiar with the older style transformers and didn't recognize what they were. They were just very different controllers. I don't remember exactly how long that dime permitted you to run the train, but I think it may have been about five minutes. I do remember that there wasn't much variety in the trains available. Every single one of them was a 350 Royal Blue.
The layout was also no gem in terms of scenery, as it had none. What it did have was a loop for each train that changed levels going under and around the other loops. It was a real maze, but it was strictly wood ramps. I don't recall how many loops there were in the display but it might have been as many as ten, with 5 12B's spaced out along the front of the enclosure. As to size, I think it was a square of about fifteen to twenty feet on each side.
I also don't recall when the display disappeared from the arcade, probably in the late 1950's when my model railroad interests had drifted to HO. I do have a vague memory of returning to look for it and finding it gone. I wish now that I had taken a photo of it, but that would have been difficult through the glass wall with my simple Kodak Bullet camera with no flash and limited capabilities. While I have no photos, I do have happy memories of visits to that arcade in the early 1950's.
If any of you who lived in Northern California in the 1950's have any memories of this display, please contact me at the above email address. Also, if anyone remembers similar displays elsewhere, please let me know.