"Friend's Layouts" Installment #7 - A History Shared by a Good Friend!
Updated: Aug 25, 2022
My good friend, Joe P, not only shares his layouts (past and present) with us, but also a very interesting history of his love of trains. Thanks Joe, not only for sharing, but also for making my job easier this month by providing such a great narrative.
I had to share this first picture of Joe with one of his 1980's layouts - his expression sort of reminds me of the pic of the Dad on the cover of the 1954 Lionel catalog!
Joe’s story in his own words - I hope that Joe does not mind my occasional comments that I just had to insert:
“Trains have long been a part of my life. I never had much interest in sports, my passion lied with trains. I spent a lot of years collecting and accumulating. I never really had the time to invest into a grandiose layout, but always had something to run trains on.
I grew up on Long Island, NY and I guess my love of trains started in August of 1955 after just turning age four. My father drove me to Hicksville to see one of the last 3 LIRR H10 2-8-0 steam locomotives. It was parked on the Wye (Safety track next to the crossing shanty) that once connected the Ronkonkoma line to the Port Jefferson branch. He took me up into the cab. The fireman stepped on the pedal which opened the two firebox doors for me to see the firebox glowing and then showed me the coal bunker on the tender. (You were some lucky dog, Joe!).
My father always loved trains, especially the “Steamers” as he called them. On Friday nights he’d take us to the bank in Hicksville to cash his check and pay bills with Money orders (Remember them?). Occasionally, he’d get each of us a silver dollar! I’d sit outside on the steps of the bank and watch the trains at the Broadway crossing. Back then, Hicksville was a train lover’s paradise, tracks were still on ground level until 1963. When a train approached the East Marie St. crossing , the 1 to 1 scale Gateman would come out of his shanty, blow his nickel plated whistle and crank the gates down by hand. Freights were the best, as they took longer to clear the crossing and I loved hearing the wheel flanges squeal. (Joe. I wish I knew you then to share these experiences!)
My two older brothers were not really into trains and I cannot recall them ever setting them up. My eldest cousin would set up a great American Flyer layout, but I wasn’t allowed play with it, as I had developed a reputation for breaking things. Maybe that’s what happened with my brother’s trains?? I do remember taking an American Flyer steamer into the backyard and playing with the white drivers in the dirt (1955/56).
I had received trains for Christmas from 1958-1963. By late ’63 my interest turned to building Tyco HO kits. With the exception of a few Marx chassis really nothing survived my childhood.
In 1958, I made friends with an adopted kid down the block named Louie McCool (Now, is this a great name or what? Joe tells us more about Louie later on in his story). His adopted father had bought numerous used Lionel O gauge trains and accessories for him. Seeing his trains set up and running, was my first real exposure to Lionel (No, I didn’t break any of his trains). I would love to go over and set up layouts with him using elevated trestles, switches, and Plasticville. His father installed a stepdown transformer, so we could hook up little pointy Christmas bulbs in the Plasticville buidings.
In November 1980 I attended my first Greenburg Train show at Colony Hill in Hauppauge. With really no money in my pocket I bought a 6417 Pennsylvania N5 porthole caboose for $10 (like the one Louie had). That was the only piece of Lionel I had and it sat on a shelf in my den for a year until the next show. Then I picked up a 675 /2466WX for $75 a couple of gondolas and a few pieces of O gauge track and a boxed KW for $45. From there my collecting started.
More about Louie….
I had lost contact with Louie when I went into the Air Force (1970) and after returning to L.I. I would see him from time to time in the old neighborhood. Louie was a very unhappy grown up. It was tragic that Louie was abused in previous foster homes. He’d tell me about one foster home when was locked in a closet and another foster parent threw knives at him. By the early 60’s my young mind realized he was being physically abused by his adopted “father” and “mother” striking him on many occasions, while I was present. At the time I didn’t know I witnessed what was later described as Child Abuse. Louie was showered with more toys than anyone I knew, but his adopted parents couldn’t give him love, patience and understanding, what he needed most.
Sadly, by 1982 so psychologically and emotionally scarred, he stepped in front of a panel van on Jackson Ave. in Syosset and was killed instantly. I was devastated. I think of him from time to time and fondly remember all the fun we had.
BUT, the memory of him and his trains became the inspiration and the catalyst for me to obtain and recreate the collection of engines, cars and accessories that Louie once had. I’ll always be grateful to him for being my friend. (Joe, I am very sorry for your loss of someone who clearly made an impression on you. From your vivid commentary, here and earlier on, I actually feel like I knew Louie, and miss him too).
Back to the trains…
I went to almost every Train Show to build my collection. By 1985 I had far surpassed what Louie once had. I started building sets around the engines and rolling stock I acquired. The following year as I walked in with a No.30 Water Tower, my wife started asking me (after coming home from Colony Hill), if I finally got everything I wanted. What could I say? That was about the time that I started to repair trains. I could never afford being a high end collector, but managed to assemble a nice collection on a modest budget.
I built a couple of layouts in my first house, learning, acquiring and expanding as I went along. Those layouts evolved into a 7’ X 15’ in the mid to late 1980’s. When my son Joey was born in 1990, he soon gravitated right into the train mode and still loves them to this day. I would take him to the local shows in the baby stroller. He used to burst into laughter whenever he would operate the barrel loader, dumping the barrels onto the tracks without the car. I am blessed! I eventually built him a 4x8 HO layout.
A few additional pictures of Joe's 1980's layouts:
When we moved to Rocky Point in 2000, I realized just how much I accumulated. Over 140 boxes of trains.
I built my first table in 2002 around the time started my side business, “Whistlestop Train Repair and Services”. My current layout consists of 4 tables (8x16), with the last one built in 2005. The layout sat stagnant for many years never progressing, as I’ve never really had the time to devote to it. (Stagnant it might have been Joe, but it seems to me that trains you were almost always able to run trains)
In 2020 my son and his fiancé came to live with us for 3 months during the Pandemic lockdown. Some nice improvements were incorporated over the last 2 years. I have my son to thank. He gave me the motivation and encouragement to work on my layout.
Some pictures of Joe's current layout in progress - note the picture of the corner mountain in progress and of his son, Joey, helping in the scenery construction. The track design has been worked out, screwed down, wired and operational:
Joe continues his narrative:
Since I retired in 2018, Whistlestop has grown by least 50%. Much of my available time is consumed with it, so layout progress is slow, but it is moving ahead when time and energy allow. My basement is not a finished one and is what I refer to as a “working basement”.
In 2019 I started building blinking Radio towers out of old repurposed Erector set parts that I custom painted. They were a big hit at the April 2019 and October 2021 York, Pa Train meets. To date I’ve sold almost all of the 37 built thus far. These are labor intensive, but fun.
Today my O gauge collection is about 45% Prewar, 45% Postwar and about 5% Marx 5% Modern. I also collect Marx HO, Tyco and a small smattering of American Flyer.
A few pictures of Joe's Radio Tower assembly line and tower overnight light test. The last two pictures show his first tower on his layout.
Joe's original tower on his layout
Joe and his better half, RoseMarie, also build fantastic Christmas layouts every year. Here are a couple pictures of one of their efforts:
I am so fortunate to have met such a great group of Train Buddies. We meet for lunch once a month. I hope in the coming year to devote more time to my layout and my collection.”
I'm sure you will Joe, Thanks again for sharing
As a side note, Joe, Nick B, Mike T and Mike C (who shared their layouts in earlier installments of “Friend’s Layouts”) and I started the lunch group Joe mentions above a year or so before Covid hit. We are now 18 strong, usually 11-13 of us at every lunch. We named our group "LITCA" (Long Island Train Collecting Aficionados). We also attend train shows, including the renowned York meets, and share other train related excursions and get togethers throughout the year.