American Flyer Displays & History

Boys' Railroad Club

Photo of boys

Click on the image below to see
photos of the studio layout

Gallery ImageIn the Boys' Railroad Club TV program, Gilbert sought to create the impression that the boys were running their trains on one huge layout.   In actuality, two layouts were used.  The first, and the one on which most of the action occurs, is the 2nd Floor layout at the New York Hall of Science.   Still shots from the TV show that illustrate this layout can be found in the section of this website devoted to the New York Hall of Science 2nd floor layout.  The second layout used, and the one that will be explored in this section, was a smaller studio layout used for all the shots which included the boys.   This studio layout was almost identical to the 7 x 16 foot Sibley department store layout discussed in other sections of this website.   In addition to this layout, an add on panel was also used in several episodes for featured shots, such as those involving the American Flyer Circus and the placement of an aisle spanning erector bridge.

Boys RR Club from Playthings Magazine
From Playthings Magazine, December 1950, Page 132 - Courtesy of Lonny Beno

The show aired in October, November and December 1950.  It was repeated during that same time period for the next two years.  There were 6 episodes of the TV program produced, each one featuring an employee of a major railroad who discussed his job interspersed with prototype railroad shots and shots of the layouts in action. The Pennsylvania Railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the New Haven Railroad, and the Union Pacific Railroad were each featured in one episode. The New York Central Railroad was featured in two.

Low resolution copies of all six programs are available on the RFGCO Youtube site.  They can be found at the following links.  Commercial videos on both VHS tape and DVD have been sold in the past and may still be available.

Episode 1
New Haven R.R.
Episode 2
New York Central R.R.
Episode 3
New York Central R.R.
Episode 4
Union Pacific R.R.
Episode 5
Pennsylvania R.R.
Episode 6
Baltimore & Ohio R.R.

Transfilm Ad - Boys' Railroad ClubThis advertisement provides the identity of the company that produced the Boys' Railroad Club, TRANSFILM, Incorporated.  In the ad, TRANSFILM extoled their skills in the production of sales films and noted the wide coverage these 15 minute films achieved during the 1950 Christmas buying season.

We know that the ad appeared in 1951 based on other ads on the same page (page 164), but we don't know the name of the journal.  If you can provide any information, please contact us using the Contact Us link on the home page.  Click on the image to see an enlarged version of the ad. 

From the Ray Mohrlang Collection

Where is this layout today?

Though some have suspected that the Sibley department store layout was the layout used in the television program, Clay Buckage, the present owner of that layout confirms that there are distinct differences and that his layout is not the one that was used in the show.

According to Emil Suda, the Boys' Railroad Club layout simply sat in storage in the New York Hall of Science through the years between 1950, when it was used in the television program and 1967, when the building was being cleaned out.  It was then that it was originally sold.

Recently, Emil brought to my attention the American Flyer Collector's Column in an S-Gaugian Magazine from 1985 that discusses a wide variety of display layouts used in the promotion of American Flyer products. 1 One of the layouts discussed there was the Boys' Railroad Club layout.  At the time of that article the actual layout used in the studio shots was found to be in the possession of collector Fred H. Whitley, Jr., who had apparently purchased it from the original purchaser in the early 1980's.  As of the year of that article, 1985, Mr. Whitley was attempting to restore it.  I understand that restoration is still in progress.  If you can add anything to the above information, please contact me at the Contact Us link on the home page.

The Other Boys' Railroad Club Photo

Other Boys' Railroad Club PhotoThe date of the publication at the left is January 3, 1958, but this photo also appeared in one of the photo sections of "The Man Who Lives in Paradise," the autobiography of A.C. Gilbert, which was first published in 1954.  The first question that comes to mind is, "Who are these kids."   Certainly not Toby, Ben, Steve, Corky, or Herky, the boys who appeared in the television show.  Also, the layout is unlike either the layout used in the shots with the boys or the 2nd Floor Gilbert Hall of Science layout that was also used in the TV show.  From the equipment shown, in this photo, I would estimate the shot as being from 1952.

I think this whole new cast of characters is evidence that the Boys' Railroad Club was not just a television show, but a concept that Gilbert kept running at least 8 years past the initial television show as a way to support brand loyalty. 
From the beginning there was a tie in campaign associated with the show.  Boys were urged to form their own Boys' Railroad Clubs and obtain an official charter from the Gilbert Company.  On the Gilbert end, this would involve a publicity or public relations effort, but I don't know how long this effort might have gone on.  It is noteworthy that official Gilbert support was not stressed in this 1958 article.  In fact this article seems to tone down the Gilbert tie in, perhaps so it wouldn't seem like a blatant advertisement.

One side effect of such formally organized clubs was to acquaint boys with the principles of corporate governance, as witnessed by statements in the article at the left about the clubs having a board of directors which meets to discuss major expenditures for the club.  This ties in with the Gilbert Co. emphasis on the educational aspects of their toys.  I actually wonder how many such clubs were formed with such a formal structure.  I think it would be more likely that the clubs operated more informally.  I was a kid in the 50's and that was not the way I viewed the world.

To read the article, just click here or on image above.

I am grateful to John Huster, Lonny Beno and Emil Suda for their assistance in developing this page.

1 Gilbert Display Layouts, by Paul C. Nelson, American Flyer Collectors Column, S Gaugian, January-February 1985, page 33