For the Love of Trains
By Lou Palumbo, Published in Classic Toy Trains, January 2008
I have been a train lover as for as long as I can remember. My Dad introduced me to full-size trains before I was in school and I got my first electric train when I was in first grade. The love affair has been going on ever since those early days in the late 1940's.
Steam trains were my first favorites and I can remember some of the big ones that traveled near our family's home. Soon, though I came to love the great F-3 "covered wagons" that were popular in the early 50's. I would travel to Chicago each summer to visit my sister. My dad, a Pennsy-railroader, would get free rides for himself and his family so that was our mode of transportation to the Windy City.
I can still remember the thrill I would get when I would see that yellow light glowing off in the distance as our passenger train to Chicago would approach the station where we were waiting at 2:00 A.M. The diesel horn could hardly be heard at first. The platform would then begin to shake and finally explode in a seemingly unbearable noise as those huge F-3 units would pass us by pulling the beautiful streamline coaches that soon would stop in front of us so that we could board.
We would get on the majestic Pullman coach amid the sleeping passengers and soon be sleeping ourselves to the rhythmic clicking of the wheels riding on the rails headed for Chi-town". We awoke in the early morning seeing quiet Indiana farmlands and smelling the wonderful aroma of ham and eggs coming from the dining car.
While eating breakfast in the classy dining car complete with fine linen table clothes and heavy sterling silver settings around that beautiful railroad chinaware, we passed the steel mills of Gary, Indiana and then we would begin to see the Chicago skyline. We finally arrived at Union Station, which was filled with as much railroadania as my eyes could handle.
It was in this station that I first saw the Santa Fe Super Chief train with its glorious red, yellow, and silver F-3, ABA diesel locomotives ready to pull a long train of silver streamline passenger cars to the west coast. What a sight!
If you saw the Super Chief or any of its streamlined brothers and sisters on the Santa Fe, you know exactly why this was the most popular toy train. Visions of that train filled my young mind and made me want to relive all of this magic in miniature.
The toy train companies must have known all this because Lionel had its Santa Fe F3 units while the smaller American Flyer line featured Alco PA diesels painted in that railroad's warbonnet scheme. O gauge and S gauge hobbyists could couple models of streamlined passenger cars behind those locomotives and have their own version of the Chief or El Capitan. Keep in mind, though, that I grew up in the Keystone State and my dad worked for the Pennsylvania RR. Good as the Santa Fe might have been, I wanted something decorated for the Pennsy. During my childhood in the 1950s, I would wait each year for the new Lionel and Flyer catalogs and search for a replica of a Pennsy diesel. I really wanted Lionel to paint one of its F3s in Tuscan Red. Never happened. Not until 1979 did Lionel produce my dream diesels.
Layouts would be the best way to enjoy toy trains. Kids and dads would spend many hours recreating the world around them. Then, kids would stand by the train tracks and dream about the great places "iron ponies" were taking the passengers as the trains rumbled by. The passengers would look out the window and see a small warmly lit farm house in a snowy night and wish they were home. These are the things that we re-created on our layouts.
The romance of trains was powerful to everyone during my childhood days. I figure thats why those same kids, 50 years later, are still reliving their youth through toy trains. Because we know those days will never come again.