Friday, January 6, 2012

Model Trains at Mt.Clare: A Tradition

The closing of the Museum’s 2011 annual Holiday Festival of Trains, the biggest and most well attended EVER, continues a long-standing tradition at Mt. Clare initiated by the Public Relations Department of the B&O Railroad in 1936. In the first issue of Model Craftsmen Magazine for 1936 the B&O Railroad announced an “O” gauge “Royal Blue Model Contest” in order to help promote their signature train which operated between Washington D.C. and New York. For the princely sum of $1.00, the magazine offered a set of ¼ scale drawings of the Royal Blue locomotive “Lord Baltimore” and several types of passenger cars. This information was supplemented by a series of articles describing seats, lighting fixtures and other interior and exterior components for the modeler.  Out of some 200 contestants only five submitted completed models for judging-a testament to the complexity of the project.  The winner, chosen in March 1937, was Fletcher G. Speed, an automobile mechanic from New Rochelle, N.Y. who said he spent 30 days planning the project and over 1,500 hours completing it. The prize was $500.00 and the donation of the winning model to the Smithsonian Institution (who still holds the winning model in their collections today

This little marketing scheme drew enough attention to provide the Public Relations Department with an incentive to continue a model railroad program as a marketing tool. A large portable “O” gauge layout was constructed by the employees of the Mt. Clare Shops for use in the contest at the Smithsonian. The layout was rebuilt in 1941, including a full set of shipping crates, after which it traveled throughout many communities along the B&O’s right of way. During WWII the layout was displayed in veteran’s hospitals and used for training in the Army’s Transportation School. During the holiday season of 1944 this “O” gauge layout resided in the lobby of the Baltimore National Bank in support of War Bond sales.  At War’s end it decorated the Howard Street Hutzler’s Department Store in downtown Baltimore for the holiday shopping season.  Ultimately this large-scale layout made its way to the Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. where it was placed on permanent loan. Refurbished, updated and expanded over the years-this layout still makes an annual appearance every holiday season in the downtown Cincinnati lobby of Cinergy (formerly Cincinnati Gas & Electric Company).

Engineers, draftsmen, pattern makers, painters and electricians who worked for the B&O at Mt. Clare all participated in a growing B&O Railroad model program which produced portable model railroad layouts in “O” gauge, “S” Gauge and “HO” gauge.  These layouts, as a part of a well planned public relations program, were displayed all over Baltimore and throughout the B&O’s operating territory to the delight of thousands each year. In 1946, the B&O Railroad Public Relations Department issued sets of scale drawings of some of its most famous locomotives and cars just for modelers. Ultimately 46 sheets of scale drawings of both historic and modern (at the time) locomotives, tenders, passenger cars, freight cars and a caboose were printed and offered for sale to the public. A stationary “HO” layout was produced shortly after the opening of the B&O Transportation Museum at Mt. Clare in 1953.  On exhibit year round the Museum now boasts a stationary state-of-the-art “HO” gauge model layout and an expansive permanent “G” gauge outdoor garden railroad.

Models, toy trains, contests, and the holidays-a tradition begun by the B&O Railroad’s marketing executives in 1936 is still alive and well at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum today.  Our annual Holiday Festival of Trains offers children of all ages a glimpse into the world of miniature railroading.  With various gauges and creative layouts; model and toy train displays scheduled throughout the season represent the largest assemblage of train gardens in the region.

Courtney B. Wilson
Executive Director

For more information: Dornette, William H.L., Scale Modeling and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad: A Unique Venture in Promoting Rail Transportation via the Medium of Model Railroading.  (Baltimore, 2000). This publication includes the 46 scale drawings created by the B&O Railroad Public Relations Department along with a history of the modeling program. Available on-line or in the Museum Store.

Also check out our Television Channel for the corresponding episode. December 2011

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