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Toy Trains And TracksBy Rev. Stuart A. Parvin
( Orginally published November 1961 )
Life is funny-you know that! Robert Burns really told the truth when he said, "The best laid schemes o' mice an, men . . ." My, how we do plan and how we scheme to do this or do that. And he goes on to say, when these plans fall through they leave us "nought but grief an' pain."
That is the way we felt this past summer. We had all our plans laid to go back East and "do" all the outstanding museums, looking for material for this column.
We got as far as our daughters in Michigan. Then one of those nasty little bugs caught up with me and I landed in the hospital with a virus infection.
Well, all our plans were laid low, and at first we felt rather badly about it. However, we have learned to be guided through life and if one door closes there's always another that will open. It never fails!
My grandson Ricky has been working on a model HO Railroad. He and his dad and I went to one of the shopping centers to look at a small display of H0 equipment.
A man, who happened to be there, started to talk about HO and told us we should go to one of the largest dealers in the state. He gave us the address and we went over one afternoon to see this shop that was supposed to carry such an outstanding display of HO items.
The one door had shut in my face, and rather hard, but when we walked into Robert Beeder's store in Ferndale, Mich., I knew that a door was opening right there.
All the way back since childhood I have been a rabid follower of anvthing that has to do with trains. Moreover, I love to ride on them and will every chance I get!
Here in this shop were cases just filled with every type of H0 and 0 gauge equipment you would want. We surely enjoyed it. Ricky's eyes were really big as he took in the sights. His father's too, by the way, weren't closed.
I have seen ads wanting all kinds of tin-plate trains, the kind I had when I was a kid. Here our newfound hobby friend has his walls lined with every kind of a tin-plate train you ever heard of. I asked if we could come back with the operator of our clan. She is our official photographer! Our son-in-law Dick, went back with us as he carried the camera. Remember, I had been in the hospital! Mr. Beeder started his hobby shop when he was 14 years of age. He was always interested in trains and began buying different types of sets until now he has over 700 complete ones.
Almost every country of the world at one time or another made up miniature trains either for models or toys. Bob Beeder has at least one set from each of these different countries.
There are 14 gauges of track that have been used during the years. Here again our friend has at least one set, and in many cases several sets, of each gauge.
Lionel started making electric trolley cars about 1906. Mr. Beeder has one of each of the many types made through the years. I was able to go up into his office and there I saw the first type of train-in wood. It was a pull toy, in form like an old fashioned engine with the large funnel-shaped smoke-stack. The highlights of the engine and cars were merely printed on paper and pasted on.
It was so interesting to learn the real history of Mr. Beeder's colossal hobby. Some of the first trains were the wooden pull type which we have already mentioned.
Then came the beginning of the tin-plate hobby-and these trains embodied as much detail as could be made possible by lithographing and embossing- on this light metal. These earlier ones were the pull type toy also,
Next came the cast-iron engine and cars, and in many cases the early ones again were the pull type trains. Here all the many parts of the engine and cars were molded.
Then the hobby was born, for there came on the market a set of trains with a track on which the engine pulled the cars. Many of these early models were actually operated by real steam-realism at its best! These old steam type engines are the collector's find, I have learned.
Then followed the engine with cars with a spring motor (wind ups, we used to call them). Not too long after this the first electric trains were put on the market. These were worked by a battery.
I was amazed that a Mr. Davenport introduced the first electric train, way back in 1835, by putting a very small motor in a locomotive and running it by a homemade battery over a small round track.
It is believed that Ives put on the market the first sets of electric trains. This was the three-rail tin type of track and it was known as the O gauge. The trains were made up with the authentic details of the real monsters that were then crossing our country, circa 1910.
The hobby of collecting these miniature train sets seems to have started about 1930. Since our last war the number of collectors has increased to legions. Talking with Bob Beeder you feel that this is the most fascinating hobby anyone could have -and it does look like it could be.
Trains record the historical development of their era. They helped scatter the flood of emigrants over our vast land. They started towns along the tracks where the emigrants could bring their crops for shipment and get money for supplies from the local stores.
Trains brought in new tools and human necessities, and the newspapers, and magazines and otherwise kept the settlements in contact with the outside world. All these developments, and the gargantuan service of the transcontinental railroads, were in the talk and minds of the young and old who played with the toy trains which found their way into "yesterday's" homes as answers to the birthday and Christmas prayers of small boys.
Miniature train collecting is a great hobby and Mr. Beeder has really carried it on in every sense of the word. He has his desk full of all types of desk ornaments and of course each is in the shape of an engine or train. He also collects types of glass and china decorated with trains.
The afternoon that we did this story seemed to go so quickly. riow much we did enjoy every minute of it! However, Bob Beeder is like a magician for at the very end of our interview, he pulled out of his collection a film which was not only educational but the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.It was made in New York City and I guess the cost was enormous. In the finest color, with a beautiful musical background, the film shows different types of toys, mostly trains, that comprise the entire transportation system of an imaginary city.
It is made up of miniature vehicles all in motion. Locomotives stand in the train shed while others speed past the crossings where stand some of the first old horse-drawn carts. Other early day autos and carriages, with their tiny occupants, move more slowly down the busy street. It is so fascinating it holds you speechless.