American Flyer trains for Children’s Hospitals
By J. Wayne Beachy
Our club, The Virginia Central Division of the Atlantic Coast
S Gaugers (ACSG), liked to take our modular layout to the Children’s
wards of local hospitals. There were, however, two major problems
with doing that. One was that the children’s wards were
always on the 7th floor and just getting the equipment there took
much time and work. The second was we were only able to operate
a couple of hours, at the most. So we would spend two hours plus
setting up, a couple of hours running, and an hour or so taking
down. Again, this was a lot of work to run for a couple dozen
children. Therefore, the club decided not to do these shows anymore.
We would very much miss the excitement and enthusiasm of the
children when we did run. I also hated the idea that the children
would miss out on the fun of American Flyer trains. We had several
stories from hospital staff, which showed running trains for these
children helped in the healing process.
With that in mind, I began a search for plans for a smaller layout,
one that would be easier to carry and set-up. I wanted as much
“train action” as possible. I also wanted lots of
operating accessories. Many in the ACSG are building modules with
buttons that children and adults can push to operate the accessories
themselves. So I decided to include that feature in the layout,
Bob Tufts is in the process of researching Gilbert factory layouts
and sent me the drawing for a 5’X9’ layout that fit
the bill perfectly. It had two loops. The outer one was an oval
and the inner one a modified figure 8 over and under. The layout
had two sidings with typical Gilbert accessories of the mid-fifties,
plus other accessories such as beacon; floodlight; and water tank.
I made one slight modification to the ovals and changed the location
of the sidings. A major change was to remove the switch from the
inner oval that goes to the sidings. I did not need this, as I
do not plan to do any switching. The siding merely stubs up to
the oval and gives the appearance of a switch.
The train board was cut into three equal sections of 36”
X 60”. A light frame of 1 X 2s was built under each section
to make handling easier. These three board sections are set on
a telescoping “L” girder style frame built from 1
X 4s with folding legs attached. For transportation the two “L”
girder frames come apart. When set-up, they telescope together
and are held together by 4 short carriage bolts. The board sections
are also secured to the “L” girder frame by one carriage
bolt for each section. Finally, I used plastic conduit secured
by a conduit bracket at each corner, and one in the center on
each side of the table to help stabilize it when children lean
on the table. The plastic conduit sections slide out of the brackets
for transportation. The table height is much lower than normal
modular layouts, about 30”. This makes it easy for children,
especially those in wheelchairs, to see the action and push the
The board is painted dark green and roads painted black, gray,
or brown. This gives it more of a feel of 1950s toy train boards.
The outside edges were trimmed with wood molding, stained, and
glued to the boards. Skirting is tacked to the backside of this
board during a show.
Track work is all set in current reproduction rubber roadbed
for looks and to quiet the operation a little. It is all mounted
permanently using Gargraves screws, with the exception of the
elevated track work on the centerboard. I set this up each time
I operate the layout. The elevated track work on the two outside
boards, are permanently mounted.
Accessories were placed around the layout in such a way that
visitors on all sides can see and play with them. I used a mixture
of vintage and current production accessories. The goal here was
to have accessories that work well, not display ones that have
great antique value. Currently the layout has a Gilbert cattle
loading facility, (yes, I know the cattle do not load well, but
the visitor can push the button, and watch the cattle run around),
a Gilbert operating water tank, a Lionel operating freight station
with all vestiges of Lionel replaced with signs promoting
S gauge, a Gilbert whistling billboard, a RapidRail operating
diesel horn shed, and a RapidRail talking Plasticville station.
There is also an operating MTH beacon light and Gilbert grade
crossing warning signal that run continuously. Future plans call
for a Gilbert “cow-on-the-track”, and to replace the
talking station with a baggage smasher the kids can operate, as
soon as either MTH, or Lionel make one that is reasonably priced.
The remainder of the board is filled with Plasticville, based
on however the mood strikes me.
To avoid taking an extra table on which to place the transformers,
I built a wood tunnel for one end that would double as a transformer
platform. This raises the transformers up a little to make operation
easier since the table is only 30 “ high.
I use two MTH 750 transformers to operate the trains. These give
plenty of power for the trains and allows me to operate sound.
The newer MTH units will not work with S gauge since MTH seems
making ones that only with work with O gauge. Too bad. I use two
Gilbert 4B or larger transformers to operate the accessories,
one under each end of the table. I made sure no operating accessories
would be set on the centerboard. This simplified setting up at
a show. I use quick-connect plugs to make all wiring connections
under the table. On the tabletop I mounted speaker terminals into
which wires from the accessories are inserted. This makes set-up
much faster and kids don’t mind the detraction of the terminals
on the tabletop.
I usually run vintage Gilbert Flyer or modern Lionel Flyer trains
as they are better able to take abuse than other modern hi-rail
S gauge cars like SHS or AM. I save those to run on my home layout.
I always make sure the hospital has no objection to the volumes
of smoke Gilbert engines produce before I start operation.
This is a very worthwhile project. Already for 2003, I have scheduled
shows at the children’s ward of a nearby general hospital
(or medical center as they now call themselves), Richmond Children’s
Hospital, and the local VA hospital. I later plan to offer this
to the one public nursing home in the area.