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Gauge at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens
By Robert S. Butler
Photographs courtesy Mark Heppner, Stan Hywet Hall
Just before the October 2002 Eastern Division TCA Meet in York,
Pennsylvania my friend, Peter Bowler, called and wanted to know
if I knew where to purchase standard gauge track. I told him that
I couldn’t think of anyplace offhand and, since I knew Peter's
train interests do not include standard gauge, I asked why he
wanted to know. It turned out that he had recommended a toy train
display to the curators of the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens as
part of their Christmas 1930 theme. The museum is a National Historic
Landmark located in Akron, Ohio and was built between 1912 and
1915 by F.A. Seiberling, the co-founder of Goodyear. This historic
estate has 65 rooms and is surrounded by 70 acres of landscaped
gardens and grounds. The name is Old English for "Stone Quarry".
Peter suggested the trains in a March 2002 meeting with Stan
Hywet officials and while the curator seemed interested nothing
more was said. Several months later Stan Hywet’s CEO of
the museum gave Peter a call and wanted to know when he would
be available to set up a display. Peter contacted Lionel and they
agreed to the loan of a Standard Gauge Hiawatha for the Christmas
display. When the train arrived Peter inspected the set and realized
that track and transformer were not included. Peter has plenty
of modern Lionel power but no standard gauge track- hence the
I had started collecting Standard Gauge when I first became a
member of the TCA but as time went on I became less interested
and ultimately restricted my interests to O gauge. In spite of
the loss of interest I had kept the few items that I had collected
and, since I had once had plans for a large standard gauge layout,
I had tons of standard gauge track on hand. When he told me of
his predicament I told him that I wouldn’t mind loaning
it for such a purpose.
At this point in the story, you know more about Stan Hywet Hall
and Gardens than I did. When I volunteered to loan some track
I assumed that the display was going to consist of a small loop
of track on a train table. Peter quickly disabused me of that
notion and he told me that it was going to go on the floor around
the Christmas tree. Knowing nothing of the display situation or
the museum, but being only too familiar with the problems of floor
level train displays, I expressed concern about such things as
crowd control, accidental damage due to careless passersby etc.
Peter then told me what you read in the opening paragraphs of
this story and he told me about the museum’s methods of
crowd control, docent presence, area isolation etc. After thinking
it over for a bit I said that a floor layout sounded acceptable
and I agreed to provide the track and the lockons for the display.
We talked a bit more and then, just before he hung up, I asked
about a station for the train. Peter said that he was only planning
to have train and track. I thought that was completely unacceptable
and I said, “A train always has to have a station. Let me
see what I can do about that.” After hanging up, I went
up to the train room and rummaged and thought and settled on my
Pride Lines Ives reproduction glass dome station and a number
of Pride Lines standard gauge painted, lead cast, figures for
the station scene. In addition, I decided that there needed to
be at least one recognizable train signal so I added my Lionel
standard gauge semaphore to the to-be-displayed list.
Peter called a few days later, we agreed on a time, and so on
the evening of Friday, November 15th, with cold wind and rain
hurrying us on our way, Peter and I drove to Stan Hywet. We arrived
about 7PM. In spite of Peter's briefing and a little bit of reading
on my part, I was still picturing Stan Hywet as nothing more than
a rather large house. In my mind, the room where we were going
to set up the display was going to be a big room with the usual
eight-foot ceiling. I imagined there would be some antique furniture
and, undoubtedly, an elaborately decorated six-foot Christmas
tree. When we arrived it was dark and the rain was turning to
a mix of snow and sleet. Mark Heppner, Vice President and Curator-Museum
Service Division, met us near the rear entrance and waved us towards
a parking area. We pulled into an area behind a building and as
we got out of the car I got my first reality check. The house
was a Mansion! A Very Big Mansion! We each grabbed some boxes
and Mark led the way. We climbed some stairs, threaded our way
through the old kitchen and headed down a very long corridor with
high ceilings. The room, the Great Hall, with the Christmas tree
was a monster affair with solid flagstone flooring, an immense
fireplace, and a huge balcony/second story passage. The Christmas
tree was 20 feet tall.
“Down By the Station Under the Tree in the Great
In addition to guided tours, the museum hosts events of all types
and that evening there was a very elegant dinner in progress complete
with costumed Madrigal singers. Mark pointed us to the cordoned
off area around the tree. We set down the boxes of track, transformers,
and tools and went back to the car for a second trip. The train
had already arrived. Its’ multiple boxes of orange and blue
were stacked under the Christmas tree like so many unopened gifts.
As we set down our covered boxes and began to move things around
a few of the guests and docents gave us a casual once over and
continued with the festivities. Peter and I took off our shoes
(to walk on the antique rug under the tree), stepped over the
ropes, and preceded to set out huge strips of white flannel under
and around the base of the tree.
The Madrigal Dinner in progress occupied several of the rooms
and as a result there was a steady stream of guests passing back
and forth behind the ropes. Not much notice was taken of our efforts
while Peter and I moved the white flannel into position. With
the flannel adjusted to our satisfaction we opened the boxes and
pulled out the track. Bingo! In an instant we became the focus
of a small army of constantly changing sidewalk superintendents.
As our work progressed, the questions started. In between questions
we were regaled with story after story about each superintendent's
“first train set”. Just like the building of the first
transcontinental railroad, the more track we laid, the more interest
we generated. It was obvious that any number of observers would
have gladly paid for the privilege of stepping over the ropes
and working with us as assistant toy train gandydancers. We reached
that point in the construction where we had to stop to take measurements
and make adjustments. This “idleness” was too painful
for the army of "senior railroad officers". Like any
boss they felt obliged to offer good natured comments concerning
our lack of activity (Jeez, wouldn’t you know it. Lying
down on the job. You mean we have to start talking salary increase
already? What’s the world coming to, etc.)
Off duty docents made repeated trips in to check on our progress.
Anticipation was building and we were having some trouble with
the track plan. With everyone so obviously interested in what
we were doing, Mark decided it wouldn’t hurt to pull some
of the trains out of the box and set them off to one side for
all to see. This move was about as calming as pouring gasoline
on a fire! The minute he did this, the number of visitors and
repeaters increased yet again. Now, in addition to friendly banter,
one could hear people murmuring things like, “Oh, look at
those trains! You know, we’ll have to come back and see
this. Etc.” The display of the Hiawatha also evinced some
concern for historical accuracy.
“That train looks like the 1940’s version of the
Hiawatha” said one Super.
“True,” said another, “But isn’t that
train station supposed to be from the 1920’s?”
I nodded, and the second Super continued, “Well, there
you have it. The display this year is to be Christmas 1930. Add
1920 to 1940 and take the average and you have 1930. It’ll
do just fine.”
We soon discovered that we had to cut a piece of track in order
to make everything fit so Peter drove home to get a vise and a
hacksaw. I started in with the standard gauge track clips that
were attached at each track joint to prevent the track from working
loose as the train rolled. Peter returned and after we cut the
section everything fit perfectly. By now it was after eleven and,
with a last wistful look, the docents and the others connected
with the museum bade us a “good-night” and left. Mark
went around turning out lights throughout the mansion until only
the Great Hall remained lighted. Peter and I started in on wiring
and track adjustments (setting cardboard strips under the rug
for even roadbed). I pulled out the station and began erecting
its glass dome over the track down towards the front of the tree.
I had brought along some small light fixtures and these were carefully
threaded into the building to give illumination. I set the Lionel
standard gauge semaphore next to the station but I did not power
it. Finally, at 12:30AM all was ready. Peter turned on the transformer
and I stood up and shouted into the darkened silence, “Boooooaaard!”
Peter cracked the throttle; the Hiawatha let out a terrific chuff
and started rolling. The digital sound worked like a charm and
the whistle was just grand. We found and corrected a few minor
bugs in the trackwork and on the engine trailing truck and after
several more loops and a good engine lubing we declared the railroad
open for business. Labors finished, we sat for a while, watching
the train roll and listening to the whistle echo through the Hall.
Finally, we turned off the train, loaded the leftover track in
Peter’s car and drove back to his place. We transferred
the leftover track to my car and at 2:15AM I rolled into my driveway
in Shaker Heights, locked the car, and tired and happy I staggered
upstairs to bed.
I have imagined many things as far as toy trains are concerned
and I have thought of doing and have done many things with them
but I must admit-I never imagined doing anything like this.
“In the Great Hall Even Standard Gauge Looks
And how did the public react to these efforts?
The e-mail from Mark Heppner says it all!
Sent: Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Greetings Peter and happy New Year!
I am happy to report that the train display was a smashing success
and that it ended without any major problems. I cannot thank you
enough for generosity and assistance. I took some pictures of
the layout and hope they turned out all right.
And in an e-mail to Lionel…
Subject: Train Set
I wanted to inform you that we have just wrapped up another hugely
successful Christmas program here at Stan Hywet and that your
loaned train set was, without a doubt, the highlight of the season!
The layout and its operation were wonderful and it added so much
to the overall experience of our visitors (some 10,000 folks!).
There were more questions about the trains set, Lionel LLC, the
donation, etc. than there was about the historic Christmas presentation!
I was amazing to see grown adults turn into children in a flash!
I have taken many photographs that I will forward onto you as
soon as they are developed. I only pray I did the layout justice!
Best wishes in 2003,