York, York, The Gang's All Here!
York, PA October 18-20, 2001
by Bob LeBras
Another beautiful weekend in eastern
Pennsylvania has come and gone with
the close of the Fall York 2001 train
meet on October 19 and 20. Many trains
were traded, talked about and touched,
good friends revisited and new ones
met, and excellent local cuisine sampled.
For the railfan, toy train collector,
or tourist, it would be hard work to
have a bad time here.
This, my third York in a row, has
become an autumn ritual. Strapped
into the Urban Assault Vehicle (UAV;
my pickup truck), I headed east on
Thursday morning. My mission was to
arrive at the TCA National Toy Train
Museum in Strasburg by 1:00 p.m. Since
this was my first time driving (I
went by train previously), I didn't
have an exact idea of how long it
would take. I figured if I kept the
accelerator pedal pressed as close
to the floor for as long as possible,
I would arrive near the scheduled
start of the Internet Committee meeting.
In fact, I made the drive in sufficient
time check in at the motel and unload
excess baggage. After some last minute
directions, I found the museum amidst
Amish farmlands at 12:58 p.m.
Parking the UAV out back near the
corn, I walked around to the front
entrance. This was my first visit
to the museum, and it was neat to
experience all of the things I had
only seen and read about in the Quarterly,
including the walkway bricks donated
by members to sponsor the building
Entering the museum, the atrium
is a beautiful peaked structure bathed
in natural light filtering through
the glazed ceiling and front facade.
Although the overall building is not
relatively large, the lofty openess
of the entrance, combined with the
effective use of angles and centerpieces
in the area housing the toy train
collection, tricks the eye into believing
it is a much larger space. I felt
a certain sense of pride that this
Association, my Association, had built
I met Internet Committee Chairman,
Mike Frieders, inside the doorway
and introduced myself. Apparently,
I was the first to arrive and we chatted
abit. There were a ton of people inside
the atrium milling about, drinking
the complimentary beverages, and listening
to the K-Line presentation. Each of
the Big Three, K-Line, MTH and Lionel,
would take their turn speaking to
Association members. Mike suggested
that, since the other committee members
had not shown up, I walk around the
museum and we would meet in the library
at 2:00 p.m. Anticipating seeing many
great toy trains, I enthusiastically
agreed and headed for the collection.
Truly, the museum has amassed an
amazing variety of toy trains of every
description ranging from historic
prewar pieces to the latest state-of-the-art
units. The static displays were fascinating
and the operating layouts delighted
kids of all ages. I became transfixed
on the monitor displaying Choo Choo
Cam equipped locomotive traveling
around the O gauge layout. I always
thought the concept of a camera on
a train was abit over-the-top, but
realized that I have a television
in my trainroom and it would be a
really neat addition.
The appointed hour arrived as did
the New York contingent of our committee.
We filed into the library to have
our first meeting, and I noted that
there was ample seating for the members
conducting research, or just perusing
the extensive materials. We initially
planned the gathering as an introductory
session, but, with so many good minds
filled with ideas, it was hard to
contain our enthusiam. The Internet
Committee laid the foundations for
many plans concerning the Association's
On my way inside the museum, I passed
a curious looking contraption. It
was some type of small engine mounted
on a trailer and attached to a series
of belts. Although it said John Deere
on the side, it sure didn't look like
a tractor. Whatever it was, it was
strange and old, yet well-preserved.
The owner started the motor and
it sputtered to life. I had heard
Tin Lizzies that sounded better and
it reminded me of the Little Engine
That Could. After some tinkering and
tweaking, the engine settled into
a rhythmic pattern of maintaining
sufficient compression to stay alive.
As one who enjoys both machinery and
antiques, I was fascinated by this
odd chugger, and I wondered what could
possibly be the connection between
a John Deere engine and toy trains.
When they poured the milk, I knew
exactly what this was all about. The
entire unit was making ice cream.
Then, it dawned on me that this engine
must have been some kind of multi-purpose
device; the food processor of its
day. Pretty neat, and the fresh ice
cream was good too. The connection
was clear: Food and trains.
One of my missions on this trip
was to find my brick in the museum's
sidewalk. The Museum Committee came
up with an inspired fundraising idea
to sell bricks to the Association
membership allowing them to be inscribed
with the message of choice. The profits
from the sales of these bricks would
help raise money for the museum expansion
including the new entrance atrium.
I had eagerly purchased one of these
bricks, but I really wanted to see
it in place.
Without a map to guide me directly
to it, I started reading them one
at a time beginning near the doorway.
It didn't take long to find my little
piece of the museum, "Robert LeBras.
Trains Forever." Mission accomplished.
After the Internet Committee meeting,
we stayed and watched the Lionel presentation.
We visited with Past, Present and
Future TCA presidents and chatted
with Dick Maddox. We enjoyed the ice
cream and terrific cookie selection,
but, most of all, we relished good
friendships in a truly remarkable
hall of trains.
Several of us walked (alright, we
really drove) nextdoor to the Red
Caboose Motel. This interesting little
Strasburg landmark features prototype
cabeese, decorated in a variety of
roadnames, that you can rent for overnight
stays. A quaint idea, but I've never
been inside a crummy that I wanted
to call home, even temporarily. We
took some photos and had dinner at
the motel's restaurant.
The rooster sounded early on Friday
morn. Had to rise and shine for my
first Breakfast At York. I flew down
Route 30 til I hit the York rush hour
traffic. Turning off this most annoying
road in the state, I began to feel
like a pro as I weaved through surface
streets avoiding most of the traffic
entering the Fairgrounds. With the
UAV parked near the Yellow Hall, I
grabbed my camera, cellphone and belt
bag, and headed for the dining hall.
I passed Frank "Schmeer" Samaritano
in the parking lot talking on his
ubiquitous cellphone. He directed
me to the back of the hall to meet
up with my party.
Lo and behold, the gang's all here.
There's The Internet Committee, Chip
and Marty, Lloyd and several others
all wondering why I'm a half hour
late. Hey, this is supposed to be
a vacation, guys! No rest for the
weary (and slightly hungover) traveler.
Lloyd Wisner and I had chatted prior
to the meet and, as promised, he brought
along his slides taken during the
last decades of street-level trolley
service in Pittsburgh. I promised
to create a web page to display them.
I didn't get any breakfast because
we split up shortly after I arrived,
but who needs to eat when thar be
trains here? I wondered what I was
going to do for the next half hour,
then I looked down at my name badge.
Duh! I had a dealer tag for the Purple
Hall. Ted had asked if he could send
my meet registration with his in order
to obtain another table. I gladly
accepted with the bonuses for me being
free attendance and early admittance
to the hall. I simply walked around
the rather long line and the security
guard at the hall entrance and found
Ted setting up in his usual spot.
Being the ever helpful sort, I asked
if he required any assistance. Ted
declined, so I set about walking around
the hall in peace while the dealers
made their final preparations. I went
directly over to my good buddies at
Classic Toy Trains and snagged a couple
of their show buttons. Apparently,
these always go quickly and, as I
was picking up a button upon the request
of an individual unable to attend
the meet, it was good to scratch that
item off the itinerary early on. Later
in the day, I noted that CTT only
had stickers left to distribute.
About 10 minutes later, the flood
gates were opened and TCA members
swarmed in every direction like bees
in a flower garden. After spending
some time hanging around the CoolTrains.com
table chatting with Ted and Mike Wolfe
(we call him the original Mike Wolfe),
gawking at the chick across the aisle,
and watching the Master's of Toy Train
Sales work their magic on innocent
passersby, I went to a couple of the
nearby halls to check out the selection.
As I was heading towards the Yellow
Hall, I heard the announcement over
the PA system, "Al Schwartz is at
the Silver Hall registration desk."
I chuckled to myself, "Al had himself
I figured The Internet Committee
would all be there and, as I hadn't
seen Al since Summer 2001 in Baltimore,
I headed on over to hook up with everyone.
Al had some devastating photos from
Ground Zero in NYC, and Bob Mintz
carried a newspaper article with a
photo of his heavily damaged apartment
building very close to the World Trade
Center site. It was great to have
good friends safely together at the
center of the toy trains universe.
We poked and prodded around that
various halls, spending time looking
at MTH's layout in a trailer, checking
out the DCS setup, chatting with O
Gauge Railroading's Myron Biggar,
and buying scenery in the Gold Hall.
I became enamored with the Aristocraft
G gauge trains and, for the price,
wondered why I had ever gotten into
O gauge. For a mere $225, I could
have a massive locomotive AND caboose.
Food for thought. We also ran into
our good buddies (we have many "good
buddies") from the other club and
exchanged pleasantries. I saw Horace
"The Horrible," that I had the pleasure
of meeting in Baltimore, a couple
of times at the CoolTrains table trying
to Presbyterian Ted down on his already
rock-bottom price for a Thomas The
Tank set. Go away.
Also, in the Gold Hall, I found
my long-sought PRR novelty license
plate for the front of the UAV. My
exclamation of "Finally!" amused the
vendor. I gladly paid the $10 asking
Returning back at base camp, I hung
out with the CoolTrains dudes for
awhile. Ted had to go do some family
thing, so I said "ciao" and found
The Internet Committee, yet again.
We joined Dennis Clad and his wife
for dinner at Cracker Barrel. After
meal entertainment was provided by
a gentleman in our party performing
some really neat magic tricks.
Heading back to the Comfort Inn,
I decided to hit the bar for Coronas
and catch up on some train magazine
reading. Occasionally, I would pause
to listen to the Oldies band belting
out tunes or catch a passing miniskirt.
It was getting late and I hit the
sack for another early toy trains
Saturdays are always far more laid
back at York. With the New York clan
nowhere to be found, I stayed with
Ted until he packed it in to attend
more family obligations. I didn't
buy much this time around, but I just
don't have much room left on my layout.
It's time to finally get busy with
scenery. One of my primary goals,
fixing a stubborn Lionel #494 Rotating
Beacon that would not rotate, was
accomplished with parts from the trusty
parts guy in the Purple Hall.
I wandered the halls for a little
while longer watching the mass exodus
of trains and people. Melancholy and
exhaustion filled the air as the familiar
quiet settled over the Fairgrounds.
It was time to leave, but still early
afternoon. Plenty of time left to
head back to that tiny railfan town
of Strasburg, provided traffic cooperated.
No story of the still quite rural
Amish County would be complete without
mentioning Route 30. This little connector
section between York and Lancaster
is the most ridiculous mess of a roadway
I have ever driven. Undergoing mega-reconstruction
after decades of neglect, it is a
high speed drag track, befitting any
New York City avenue, that abruptly
dumps off into monumental traffic
at either end. Signal after signal
makes driving, particularly eastbound,
an absolute nightmare. This was Saturday,
and the backup was as bad as any rush
hour jam I have seen in Pittsburgh.
Good job, PennDOT.
I turned off the, now, two-lane
Route 30 and, for a second time, swerved
the twisting, narrow roads through
smelly Amish farmlands popping into
the outskirts of Strasburg. First,
I visited the train shop at the Choo
Choo Barn. It was quite an anticlimatic
experience seeing full retail prices
after having just come from the Great
Train Orgy. I felt as if this was
the Great Train Robbery.
Next, I went to the Railroad Museum
of Pennsylvania and put my digital
camera to good use. It was truly grand
to revisit this wonderful and impressive
place housing touchable relics from
railroading's glorious past.
Finally, I walked across the street
to the Strasburg Railroad; itself,
a working railroad museum. Although
I opted not to ride the train, I did
walk the grounds extensively securing
many memorable shots.
As the sun slowly set in the west,
things were winding down in this sleepy,
yet traffic-filled, little community.
Time to head back to the hotel for
dinner and Corona. I'd do some more
reading and turn-in early for a fresh
start, and a long drive back to Pittsburgh.
The original plan was to meet Ted
at the shop after railfanning, but
he indicated on the phone that he
was exhausted. I couldn't say I blamed
him. Ted suggested that I take a detour
on my way home and visit the Norfolk
Southern yard at Enola, near Harrisburg.
Sounded like a plan to me.
Sunday morning was crisp and clear.
For a third straight year, I had been
blessed with good York weather. I
left the hotel around 9:00 a.m. and
headed nextdoor to the shopping plaza.
I was running low on "film" (floppy
disks), and wanted to make sure I
had plenty in reserve for any good
angles at Enola. Fortunately, the
CVS was open and had what I needed.
Driving north towards Harrisburg,
I took Route 11/15 to Enola. Turning
left at the Susie-Q, I found the most
spectacular view of Pennsylvania's
capitol city I had ever seen; click,
The trains were very quiet at the
Enola yard, but I preserved the site
electronically. I drove up and down
the surrounding area looking for trains,
but found none. It was now noon, and
time to make the trek back to Da Burgh.
Cruising the PA Turnpike, I got the
idea to photograph all of the tunnels
along the route as I approached them.
Certainly, it was no easy task to
drive and properly zoom the camera
to get a decent shot. At least that's
one less thing I'll have to do again
in my lifetime.
Arriving back in familiar territory,
I drove the bug encrusted UAV to my
parent's home and picked up my two
feline buddies. We got back just in
time for the finale of the annual
Fall York ritual, leaf raking. It's
on any thumbnail image below to
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York Dealer Badge attached to
special O Gauge Railroading holder
personally given and pinned on
me by magazine Editor, Myron Biggar.
befitting beginning to a great
weekend, Ted Symonds of CoolTrains.com
stands well-fed in front of Prudhomme's
Lost Cajun Kitchen in Columbia,
I was late, Breakfast at York
was well-attended, and I had the
opportunity to meet many fine
train collectors and email friends.
shots of the layout in the MTH
trailer billed as the "World's
Largest Mobile Layout."