Memories of Old: My First Model Passenger Train

Old Memories: My First Model Passenger Train

By Roger Heid


On Christmas 1956, my railroad system did not see much expansion. I guess there were more pressing issues in the budget. Christmas of 1957, however, was a totally different story. Throughout the year, I had diligently plotted and executed a scheme which, in my estimation, should result in a drastic increase of my railroad logistics. I left no tactical move untried in order to achieve my goals.

Retroactively, I think I drove my Mom to the brink of a nervous breakdown, based on her demeanor on certain occasions. I will not go into the details. Poor lady! In the due process, my treasured Maerklin catalog wound up in the trash can. She was forced to replace it.

On Christmas Eve, after all the ceremonial stuff and the formal meal were completed, I handed her the two humble presents I had for her, and proceeded to make a full inventory of all railroad related boxes and their contents.. The other presents I was going to open some other time, as they were virtually unimportant, at the moment.

Everything on my lengthy list was soon fully accounted for. This did not surprise me in the least, you know. I knew that my plotting would yield the expected results. Now, the sheer amount of additional tracks, including two turnouts, made it mandatory to relocate my layout into my room. The day before, I had already made all the needed preparations. There was an old armchair nobody wanted to sit in, for example; so I threw it out the window. Good riddance! I needed the space.

It took a little while to set up the tracks and to wire the turnouts and the internal lights of my new train station plus the street light in front of it. Everything worked without any flaw. The new dimension of the layout, however, now imposed a situation I had not previously encountered. I could no longer reach every spot along the tracks with my hands. Usually, I was lying on the floor to operate my train. Now I had to get up, if I needed, to intervene in a place I could not reach otherwise. My cat needed to be re-trained, or else I would get more exercise than I cared for.

The highlight of my new and improved railroad system was a passenger train consisting of three passenger cars and a baggage car. The cars looked very similar to most of those I rode in commuting between home and school.


Now was the time to put everything into action. I added all five of my freight cars to the passenger train to see if my little BR 89 could handle all this. I turned up the throttle very slowly; I needed to savor this historical moment. But, guess what! The train did not move. Oops! I needed to re-check my engineering. While scrutinizing the wiring at the transformer, I noticed that my BR 89 was peacefully parked right next to the transformer, not even close to the tracks. I wish to make no further comment. I was glad nobody else was in the room, witnessing my outrageous plunder. Of course, a very short moment later, the train ran just fine.

I turned the room lights off in order to fully enjoy the visual effect the internally lit station and the street light would have. This was outright gorgeous! Just like in the real world. But then, much to my dismay, I noticed a major shortfall. The passenger cars had no lights in them. That was unacceptable. There was absolutely no excuse for this. A brief study of my catalog disclosed that there was a readily available solution, namely a light kit that could easily be installed into these cars.


Maerklin 7323

$_14 (1)

Well, I needed four of them. The next step was to find out what one of them would cost, which then determined how long it would take me to save up. I calculated that washing the dishes a few times would be of virtue. Needless to say that, right after Christmas, my piggy bank was quite anemic. Out of sheer human kindness, I did not have the heart to pester my Mom with this, after all what she had to go through during the bygone year.

A visit to the toy store and the information given to me led me to believe that I would be able to afford one kit at the end of the month. These kits were not in stock, so I went ahead and ordered one.

“But, Roger, you need four of them. I better order all of them, at once. I will hold the three for you.”

I agreed. The friendly clerk also hinted that certain terms could be worked out if I needed the kits sooner. This part I ignored because I did not understand.

The end of the month finally came. I ran all the way to the store and back home. The light kit was installed in a jiffy. Now this car looked just super with the room lights turned off. No way was I going to wait for three more months to have them all lit up like this. There had to be a short cut, even if it was a temporary solution.

In my treasure box I found a piece of a small candle, a remnant of some misbegotten birthday cake from a few years ago. These passenger cars were of the old-fashioned tinplate type, and the roofs slid off. The next thing you know, the candle was cut to size, glued to the floor of the car, lit, and the roof slid shut. It looked great. Now I had two of them lit.

After about two trips around the track, a very acrid smell started to fill my room. I stopped the train in front of my face. The silvery color of the roof of a certain car had turned dark brown with blisters. I immediately opened the window and lit some incense I had in my treasure box. I needed to avert the potential hazard of severe punishment for my dastardly deed. The following day I fixed the roof the best I could.

The whole situation irked the living daylights out of me. Three days later, I returned to the store to inquire about these ‘terms’. The clerk explained the terms, including the fact that, if my account would go into default, I would be charged additional money called ‘interest’, namely 5 per cent. This scared me right out of the store. I was determined not fall into a trap of unknown nature.

Another three days later, filled with utter pensiveness, I returned to the store. The day before, I did the dishes and put them away, doing my very best to be a good boy. Ergo, my Mom handed me 25 Pfennigs. This was highly encouraging, for real.

The clerk and I quickly came to ‘terms’ after I had given him the 25 Pfennigs as a down payment. I now started to feel very competent handling modern adult banking affairs. Yes, I ran all the way home, again.

It took me about 15-20 minutes to install the light kits. The rest of the evening I spent riding on my night train, lying on the floor, belly down. My Mom had to place my supper in front of my face. Of course, I did not mind that. My beloved tomcat helped himself to a healthy portion of my supper, but I did not mind that either. I truly loved my cat. Most of all, I was totally pre-occupied operating my Night Train.

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Since then, I have recreated this train. The old tin plates are no longer available, so I substituted them for the currently available models pictured below. The old light kits are still available. They are installed in my cars. Granted, this bright light bulb mounted of the car floor does not look very real life like. With a little surgery, I could replace them for modern LED strips. But for sheer nostalgic reasons, I will keep them that way. This reminds me of an evening, long ago, when I shared my supper with my buddy tomcat.


Maerklin 4039


Maerklin 4038

I am also quite enthusiastic about rear marker lights. The baggage car of my train has two marker lights installed, right below the protruding roof, right under the cupola. It looks great. How did I do this?

Over time, I had acquired a bunch of these Maerklin 2-axle box cars with a rear marker light. These lanterns pull right out of the car, no sweat. Attached to the actual lanterns is a long, wedge shaped extension which picks up the light from the bulb in the fashion of fiber optics.


Maerklin 4411

I cannibalized two of these cars to get these lanterns. Using a mini drill bit and a file, I cut two slits into the rear wall of my baggage car, just enough to fit the lanterns in. This works great. Subsequently, I stole two more lanterns from the box cars and equipped another caboose with rear marker lights. These box cars cost only about $21.- You still have the box cars; the pick-up shoes I found other use for. The light bulbs are spares for other purposes. This is not a bad deal, if you really think of it.



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