The Wreck of the #5344
By Stirling Woodin
It was a dark and stormy night….
Well, not really.
It was a hot and humid Saturday…
…when I visited my friend Jim Battaglia at his home to
play with trains.
I invited myself over, on account that my sister and my wife
wanted to go to Hershey Park that Saturday, and as I am not a
big fan of amusement parks, I opted to play trains at Jim’s
Jim’s collection of “O” gauge equipment is
nicely displayed on shelving around several walls, with the daily
“runners” already on the layout. Jim’s layout
is a “J” type, with an “027” section,
with a loop and a figure eight, on which he had an “027”
Texas Special loco TMCC converted, pulling a short train made
up of Postwar pieces, and the NYC #2383 GP-9 pulling a contemporary
train on the loop.
The main section had one “072” loop, with a raised
section and an “054” closed loop, with
switchbacks at either end. There are two inclines that allow for
access from one level to the other, and several crossovers and
service facilities and accessories. The high line had several
truss bridges, and will make an excellent photo location, once
it’s scenicked. (Hint, hint.) A plaster-of-paris mountain
looms in one corner, and both mainlines travel under and through
First up was Jim’s new Lionel Pennsy 4-10-2 Texas type
#6496, pulling a modern mixed freight consist. Smooth as silk
and beautifully detailed; TMCC and Odyssey to boot! Tender as
long or longer than the loco, deep moaning whistle, (so soulful
I almost needed a moment alone with this baby), and trainphone
antennae on the tender. Pulled the freight with no problem, and
looked good doing it.
Next up was Jim’s new Lionel 4-6-2 steamer #1361, pulling
a four car Lionel Pennsy passenger consist on the highline. Another
winner from Lionel, smooth operations and great detailing. Both
steamers were Odyssey equipped, so they would climb and descend
the inclines without any problems.
After running them smoky for awhile, we got out my #18056 Lionel
J1E from 1996, with the Vanderbilt tender, (which the NYC never
used. Oh well, the joy of toy trains!). Last time I ran this baby
on my home layout the tender truck threw a spark that she stopped
responding to TMCC commands, so I put her back in the box, and
there she stayed. Jim, with a few “ditz” of the Cab-1,
straightened the programming out and we were back in business.
Slapped on #19079, the four-car passenger set with the two add
on cars, #29007, and she was able to stretch her legs quite a
bit. My layout is a 10’x10’ “L” shaped
affair, so the loco and the six cars literally chases it’s
tail. She normally gets to run with the full six car consist only
at Christmas time.
Now this loco is not up there with the great tree stump pullers
so she really spins the drivers getting this train started, which
is OK by me, as the real steamers did much the same in regular
service. Let her rip on the “072” main and she was
smokin’ like a house afire, steam emanating from the steam
chests and wafting up the side of the smoke box and mingling with
the stack smoke.
We let her do a few laps, and then tried to get her up the grade
to the highline. She stalls about half way up, and I get ready
to give her an “0-5-0” assist, when Jim slaps my hand
away, grabs a Cab-1, and gently brings the Pennsy Texas behind
for a shove. (Ah, the beauty of command control railroading!)
With a gentle nudge, my NYC passenger train makes it up the grade,
and onto the highline. After a few laps, we bring her back down
into the low country, and then it’s back to the speedway
We start to get cocky and dispatch the Texas powered freight
train to chase the passenger train. Lots of fun, but our attention
is then drawn to the Lionel service station Alco C-420. Jim is
showing me its’ dead slow capabilities without Odyssey,
when we both realize that we have two trains running on the mainline
without operator supervision. Jim throws the yard switch from
his Cab-1, and the Texas dives into the hole.
We look back at the Alco, which by now has moved about 6”
in the space of about three minutes, when we hear an enormous
Yikes! Jim left the rear yard lead open, and my J1E has just
rear-ended the Pennsy freight at speed!
The Pennsy N5C caboose is literally suspended in mid air, with
the back end resting on the smoke box of the “J”,
and the front end is crushed up against a Feather River route
boxcar, which is itself sideways across the yard lead.
Several boxcars and flatcars are strewn about the yard, and my
“J” tender, and the first three passenger cars leaning
at a 45-degree angle to the track.
The “J” is quietly resting on a dwarf signal that
has had its cover knocked off.
Horrified? Mortified? Stunned? Not us. We both break out into
fits of laughter at our joint stupidity at having done such a
rookie mistake by leaving the switches open. We grab our digital
cameras and document the scene thoroughly, and proceed to get
the big hook to the crash scene to clean up the mess.
Trains back on the tracks, we do a few more laps, and I put the
“J” to bed.
We break out my Lionel RS-11 in D&H paint, and Jim proceeds
to do a Pennsy Texas/RS-11 lash up. Or so we thought. After several
laps, Jim realizes that he did not command the RS-11 to recognize
the lash up address, and the steamer has been dragging the Alco
and it’s train around without even breaking a sweat, thanks
to the Odyssey system! Jim reassigns the RS-11, and NOW we are
running a true consist. Jim puts a 736 with TMCC, a Scout with
TMCC, and a shorty Lionel diesel switcher with TMCC on the main,
and we take turns stealing each other’s locos, and generally
acting like 7 year olds. I was just waiting for Jim’s wife
to yell down the stairs “What are you two guys up to down
there?” and we would reply “Nothing.” Yeah,
Our day was coming to a close, so I packed up my toys, (and several
of Jim’s jems, which he spotted on the way to the car, so
I had to give them back.)
I picked up the wife, and she and my sister were two tired pups,
having stood out in the hot sun all day waiting to get on rides,
whilst I was in a cool basement, sipping suds and runnin’
A good day was had by all.