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Clem And His Trains 3/20/2001


The love of toy and real trains has been with me for as long as I can remember. I donít know why and I certainly canít do anything about it at my advanced age, but I never saw a toy train I didnít want and still thrill at the entrance to a train show or a home with trains in it. Why-I dunno.

I received my first Lionel set when I was 4. Daddy scraped money together and gave me an O gauge set Lionel set #859B for Christmas of 1941. It had the 227 switcher, 2812 gondola, X2758 box, 2654 tank and lighted 2757X caboose, track and transformer. A extra 2654 tanker came with it as well. To this day it runs happily on my layout. That night, there was big trouble and tears as Daddy did not know how to hook it up. Uncle Raeman came up and got every thing running. I was told to watch and not touch. I burst into tears as I wanted to play with the train. Mother boxed it back up and went to Wriggins general store the next day and a Hafner windup set came home to play with me. These got spread on the bare floor and pushed all over. I suspect I could not do track, but I could wind up the loco and it pulled the cars everywhere. Wow, I loved that set. Later Mother got me the red version with passenger cars to go with it. Daddy fussed about the track everywhere because I ran trains daily. What a thrill that was for me and it still is todayÖit sits on my layout.

I was 4-8 during the second world war and too young to understand the terribleness of war. (I have since done tours in Vietnam and Thailand and know...). I do remember the awful news stories and Mom and Dad crying about the loss of friends.

We lived at the seashore, Brigantine Island, just north of Atlantic City, during the war winter years to get away from the inland pollens. The shore in the winter is wonderful- no tourists/quiet/ good flotsam and jetsam washing in for a young boy to collect. We got to know the military guards working the beach and ate at the Navy mess once in a while.

During my time at Brigantine I did not have the metal trains with me as the salt air would have finished them. Mom bought me the famous Lionel paper train. What a bozo set! Iím left handed and have zero dexterity and anyway that set was terrible to assemble. Also in the damp sea air the cardboard would soften. However with a ton of Scotch tape and musledge we got us a rickety set that would only stand on the wobbly tracks. I had it on the dining room table and try as I might- it would not play with me.

One day after school I heard all this yelling the dining room and discovered Mom was making her own war on Mr. Mouse. After several near misses he jumped on the dining table and boarded my train. Mom sure could make the train run by broom power! I screamed- the trains went everywhere and Mr. Mouse took his last ride(unlike Lionelís Mickey tender). Somehow the paper train would not even stand right side up after that experience and was related to the back of the closet. (It was saved though and sold it to Adolph Arnold many years later).

Life for a kid on the beach was bearable. We had a bus to get to school and plenty of beach to play on. The beach patrols were friendly. They had cut openings in the jetties and patrolled the waterfront in jeeps. Rides were possible. Curfew was dusk. We had Navy fighters overhead all the time from Lakehurst Naval Air Station a few miles north of us. Mostly F4U bentwings. Maybe that is where I got the desire to learn to fly. It was fun to watch the fighters shoot at towed targets over the ocean and to practice dive bombing. It was not fun to watch our ships burn on the horizon from the German submarines.

I played outside in my private hut consisting of F4U (bentwing) parts- wing and tail section pieces, etc. that washed up on the beach. After a crash the Navy would come along looking for such parts, but I was faster and hid them. Tow targets would show up as well after their cables had been shot off. The targets were rolls of screen towed behind a fighter. You could count the hits as the bullets were painted different colors for different aircraft. I never did find a good cockpit for my hut but was always looking.

One Christmas we went home inland and Dad had my 227 switcher set out but it wouldnít run. Dad an electrician was not. One evening when Dad was out on his rounds as an Air Warden (I still have his armband) a knock on the door revealed another warden upset as he could see a minor shaft of light from the dining room window. No light was supposed to show from within in case of an air raid. As that room was usually dark, the warden asked what the problem was. I was screeching because the train wouldnít run. The warden told Mother to fix the blind and he stayed and got my trains running. I have never forgotten that generous act of a total stranger in war time. The warden made us promise not to tell that he stayed with us instead of walking his beat. Happiness abounded as the train awoke. The warden was pleased to help. I have learned a lot about trains and life since then and hope I have passed on the nice gesture of the warden to help others in difficult times. I think the trains helped all in my family deal with the horrible war time environment.

When I was eight or so and after the war, Daddy came home with an ad for used standard gauge trains in Pitman, NJ. He asked me if I wanted to go look at them. Well, you know the answer to that one. We called and made an appointment and Daddy, Mother and I went right over that evening. It was the longest car ride I had ever taken. The trains were in the basement of a small house and all in a custom trunk. I had never seen such big trains and nearly peed myself. It was love at first sight. Daddy was sitting on an old stool and said that if I would hug him, I could have them. At the time I did hug him; but thought I was too old to hug my Dad. I donít remember hugging him ever again, but I do every day in my dreams. I still cry over that hug, as I think that was the last hug I got to give Daddy. Teenagers donít hug their Daddy. I hug my boys every time I see them. They cringe a little, but I hug anyway. Some how we drug this huge trunk full of trains home. I have almost all of the trains still.

The lot consisted of a Lionel electric loco #8, 2 passenger cars, a series of Lionel freight cars, the big 219 crane and companion 219 dumper, 180-182 maroon passenger cars that they said came from Uncle Louie and that the loco had been lost, tack and switches and a few accessories. I did not understand electricity so we pushed the trains all over the dining room floor. Track had just 2 pins to hold it together and it was everywhere. Daddy got a few pieces with his feet coming in late. The locoís wheels were badly warped so it sat falornly on the siding for several seasons.

Several years later, Mother discovered Mr. Beckerís store in Phila on Arch street. What a wondrous place for me. Every Saturday morning for years, Mother took me in the Philadelphia to hear the lecture at the National Academy of Science and afterwards a sandwich in the car (she always made tomato sandwiches for me which got very soggy). Then we would park behind Reading Terminal, get a dish of Bassetís ice cream and go to Mr. Beckerís. Sometimes the customer line was out the door. I can remember standing in line out in the rain in order to get in to speak with Mr. Becker. His two store windows were always full of different trains to dream over. He always took us one by one and never hurried us.

He rewheeled my loco and the piece still has those wheels installed. Mr. Becker helped me immensely in my growing up and learning about trains.

Mr. Becker was a wonderful, understanding and patient man who really had his customers at heart. He was like another father to me. Mother made me write out my questions and keep them to one page. I was building a fully automated layout then in O and Standard gauge using a rack of used engine reversing units as track controllers. My biggest problem was trying to find a device that allowed current to flow one way only. 50 years before the automated toy train controls of today.

Mr. Becker always had the technical answers for me and never seemed to mind if I didnít buy anything that day. He knew he had my trust and when I needed parts and repairs he would get my business. I see his son frequently and he gets hugged too.

We had two dealers in my home town, one within two blocks of my house. Iíve been chased out of his store many times because I was ďsome kid who bought nothingĒ. My Dad and others talked to him but to no avail-- he hated kids. We were glad to see him go bankrupt. The other fellow was Mr. B.B. Morris who was much nicer and the source of my Lionel #162 crane.

Early on I built my layout in our dark moist basement. We had the old octopus -type heater which took up most of the basement space. I could just fit a 8x6 layout over in one corner. Dad had had a dark room which he never used and that was given over to me as my workshop. I cut a board out of one side and the layout was just outside that room. The repair line ran onto the workbench from the layout. Each year I would set up my trains on what ever boards I could find. There were only 2 lights so it was very dreary. Sometime in the late forties, Mother authorized me to use her sun room to build a big layout. Daddy bought 3 4x8 plywood sheets to help. We needed 4 but Daddy could only afford 3. He and I canoed the Delaware River looking for planks to support the layout. More than half of the ones here today came for our canoe searches along the Delaware. That layout took a couple of years to build and lasted thru college and beyond. I can remember running trains every Christmas for the family. We would eat dinner, then I would give a demo of my whole layout in operation at once. It was a big thing for me. All came into the train room to the show and listened to the talk of that year and see what progress had been made. Uncle Raeman was the most interested, as he was the mechanic in the family. His daughter Pru did as well. Uncle Raeman wanted to know about each technical advance and how it all worked. I could get 27 minutes of hands off automatic operation with 3 trains crossing each other and changing routes. After which there was usually a crash.

At George School (high school) I think I was a member of the HO club, but I donít think I was very active. I did buy some trains from fellow students. The same for college. I played with my trains at home, not school. Trains were considered childís toys and I was supposed to have outgrown them. Daddy passed after my freshman year in college. Somewhere after I joined the Air Force, the trains and the layout came down and waited for me throughout most of my Air Force career.

During my first military assignment at McClellan AFB, Sacramento I bought a few pieces from the Knotís Berry Farm train shop. I haunted the yard sales and thrift shops and bought what I could find. I met the late Vernon Yoeman who introduced me to The Train Collectors Association. He said that if I fool with these toys, Iíd better join the big boys (and girls). He and his wife have visited us throughout our career and she still sends a Christmas card. He was a big help in getting me started. My first meet-meeting was at a home in San Rafael. This fellow had a basement full of trains that I had never seen before. I knew I was hooked. He had built his own wide radius track out of dry wall edge material and it was a beauty. I also remember I was so proud, because at the famous Roseville flea market I had purchased a bucket of Lionel trains for 80 cents and he did not have any of those pieces. He bought the whole load for $7.00. I had several boxes of trains to sell and did not know how to price them. Some helpful soul asked if they could auction them after the general meeting. I said yes and got much more money than I had thought. My sponsor bought a 419 combo for $7 and was so happy. Themís were the days.

During my next assignment in Japan, I struggled to find trains. Went to the SAKAI factory outlet and worked my way to the factory for a visit with the president of the company. Most interesting. I have the largest known collection of Sakai in America. Their stuff was made for incountry use and not much came to the US. At that time their most expensive loco was $7 and was twin motored. Most of my career, the collection was small and the fact that I fooled with toy trains was not widely known. I did met some wonderful people because of the trains.

When I arrived in Germany, I my dumped my bags in my room and headed for the train station. The next Saturday, I found the antique section of Wiesbaden and bought my first Marklin (the lady store manager was certainly standard gauge which may have encouraged the sale). It took me a while to find out what was going on in the toy train world in Germany. One day, while I was taking my annual flight exam, the examiner mentioned that he collected trolleys and that there was a big auction in a couple of weeks, Well, when he found out I was also a collector, I passed the flight examination ride and started doing to German auctions. Three days before that auction, a fellow called me who had just arrived in Germany. He introduced himself as Chaplain James and wondered when the next meet was. We have been fast friends ever since and he has baptized both of my boys. Off we went where I got in a fuss with a local who said I had to price my stuff right away. What did I know? About then up comes a fellow in a 31 Chevy sedan full of trains. Kablowie, a tire blows. Well, Chevy tires I can change and we all became great friends. He rescued me, helped price my stuff and mentored us into German train collecting. Since he and his family have been friends across the ocean and shared special times together. Through him we met Count Coulissi and visited his castle and wonderful train collection in Switzerland.

There were only four auctions per year and we made every one of them while we stayed in Germany. Too much fun as we did not know what German trains there were or what they cost. At most meets we were flat broke by 7:45AM in the morning because of our silly buying. Then we would sell some of our stuff to fund the next purchase. All in German, of course. Such dear friends we made and so many good stories. I told Sandy that this was a chance of the lifetime and that I had to buy all I possible could. She would hide money at the meets so we could eat dinner. One time Charles Baecker, the Chevy owner, took her and her dog to lunch as I was flat busted.

At one of the German shows, Iím observing this native in silver boots and painted on jeans. It is obvious to me that she needs my attention. I woulda bought what ever she was selling as my ears were ringing. Anyway, she was peddling a Russian set that she had just gotten thru the iron curtain in Berlin. I, of course, bought it and that started my interest in Russian trains. I ended up writing the first definitive article on such entitled ďThe Russians are coming the Russians are coming.Ē Recently 3 other articles have been done, but the silver boots started it all. When I told Sandy about the silver boots and Russian trains and how excited I was, my ears ran again for a different reason. (Of interest, when the wall came down we hoped that the east would be full of trains. Turns out the better trains came thru the wall with no problem-capitalism works.)

These were the days long before trains books were so prevalent. We learned by word of mouth and by studying catalogues. Each meet was a plethora of surprises as we didnít know this car came in red or we never had seen such and such. I remember the first transition IVES piece I saw and bought. It took years to document what these interesting pieces were about. I firmly think it was more fun then, before we know the level of detail we know now. You brought 5 boxes of trains stuffed vertically in whiskey boxes and $5 to a meet and you left with 5 boxes of different stuff and no bucks. And you had met 20 new faces who added significantly to you world. I can remember talking to Frank Sinatraís buyer and trying to get him to bring Frank. I told him the men wouldnít bother him as they were too focused on trains. To my knowledge, he never came to The big York meet.

When I was coming back from Europe and had a lotta trains to bring. Several of my buddies flew airlift so I sent trunks of trains with them. They eventually got to Hanscom Air Base and were delivered to my new office. My Colonel was wondering what was going on as the room was filling up with trains and I wasnít even there yet. Many of my trains have more C-130 and C- 5 flight time than I.

Being military and moving around a great deal, we found ourselves frequently at the gates of a new base, not knowing anybody. It is easy to stay on base as they are fully equipped, and not to get to know the town and folks nearby. For example, when we arrived at Hanscom Air Base, MA (near Lexington/Concord, MA); we knew no one. While waiting for our house buy to be processed, we lived in a dumpy motel. Nothing to do. A call to a fellow listed in the TCA directory brought an invite to the next train show and a whole family of new friends. We continue to see them regularly. One has fixed my cars on occasion and all have tried to fix my wallet. These contacts anywhere in the world have been invaluable to my psychic.

During the 80ís Bruce Greenberg was very busy producing books documenting antique trains and their current prices. I was honored to be an associate editor on the IVES standard gauge book and contributing editor on 8 other books. We certainly learned a great deal as we tried to be precise about the various construction methods and variations of the trains. I am quite proud of the work in the IVES book.

As part of my service to the community, I stared an annual train show at the reconstructed Fairfax Station in Fairfax Station, Va. The original idea was to show running trains of all the different gauges operating in the same area. The station would charge a small amount for admission and the community could enjoy trains and scenery at Christmas time. The show has grown to a very special event for our area and is a key fund raiser for the station. Santa now comes in his own sleigh and we have trains everywhere including in our caboose and encircling the station outside. Several local clubs set up their equipments and play trains for the weekend. We are in our 12th year of too much fun and the people stories are so sweet. This time we helped a senior citizen and her mother run her Daddyís 1918 train for the first time. We all cried. And the little boy who needed a cookie from our Chaplain James in order to make it thru the day-special. The kids and their pure glee and joy make the hard work worth it.

Throughout my career I have used the train (and old car) hobbies as conversation starters. Somewhere in the first several sentences of introduction to someone, I will mention my albatrosses. If a spike occurs, we go to the hobby. If the listener doesnít react, we try something else. I have a dear friend Jim, who tires easily of hearing about my trains, and when we meet a new person together and that person spikes on trains, Jim says oh, no, not another one and laughs heartily because he knows we got the new guy hooked.

Where else can you meet a doctors, lawyer, and an Indian chief all at one time.

I probably shouldnít relate this story , but I and a associate had a meeting at NSA on a very delicate subject. We had had too many pops the night before and the meeting wasnít going well. I asked for a potty break and told my techmate that we needed the fix this meeting and to go along with my game. Upon returning, I said that before we get back to business, I had a personal need and could you fellows be of help. I mentioned that I collected trains and that I was the authority on Russian trains. Their eyes moved on that one. I said that I had a copy of the Russian train instructions and I wondered if anyone could read it for me. Well, folks came from every where all of a sudden. My techmate just shook his head as he had seen the magic before. 30 minutes later, after all had a copy of the catalog, we got back to a very successful meeting. Oh, the Russian catalogue question was, what is the style of writing? Cheerful, encouraging to the child, harsh, military or what? The answer was very harsh and directive.

When I worked for the Secretary of Defense, we had a high roller who was a tool maker at heart. He would stop everything if I had a nicely constructed train to show him. It was always fun too to get them into the Pentagon. I would declare that there is a train in my brief case and all the guards would come and look at it in the inspection machine. They reflect as interesting shapes on the screen. I never tried to hide the toy and always showed everybody. A train canít hurt you anyway.

This hobby has never left me nor let me down. I have traveled all over the world in the service of my country and am proud to have done so. I have Russian trains, New Zealand, German, French, etc. in my collection. The best part is the people I have met. Throughout this beautiful hobby, Iíve always found local interest in trains and from there friendships develop.

Early on in the train hobby I decided to become an expert in some facet of the hobby. I have become such and it is a good feeling to be quoted worldwide as an authority in his field. I seen to be always doing new things and pushing my learning curve, so with the trains I wanted to stay with that subject and be a long time expert. I knew I couldnít afford all of them, so why not at least know about them? Recently a friend was on the streets of Moscow at the big flea market on Red Square. A dealer was trying to sell a Russian train to my friend and he was showing a copy of my article on Russian trains as proof of what it was! In Moscow even they know me.

Iím living in Washington and up in Maine on vacation. I stop by a yard sale and here is my bud from Mass. trying to beat some lady outa her trains. Ainít this hobby grand?

The Eastern Division, TCA, meet at York, Pa is the biggest meet in the world and is held twice a year. 25,000 or so trains nuts converge on 900 tables of trains. Dinners, meetings, hugs and fun- it is the Mecca for toy trains lovers. I have been going for 25 years and live for the next one. I have long said that if I put as much energy and enthusiasm in my work as my trains, I couldÖ

Glimpses of York follow:

Mikey down from the City who always regales us with City stories of trains and his chums who do the military vehicles thing including full uniforms.

Bob, who drives up from Florida to sell his trains in a parking lot- he is not a member altho his dad was. He uses the hobby to help the grieving process over his lost son.

Several fellows who fly in from Germany for the week. We did have a collector who would take the Concorde in on Thursday, buy trains on Friday, fly back on the Concorde for a German meet on Sunday. I bought some trains in a French auction one time and they came on the Concorde. We canít afford it, but my trains can.

One York I arrived at the show 2.754 minutes after the doors had opened. I was in a panic. As we approached the grassy spot where we always parked, I set the hand brake and ran before the truck stopped. Sandy started yelling at me and turned to check her oldest son, and he was out the other door running to buy his kind of stuff. Both of us were long gone. The little fellow was squirming in Sandyís arms as he wanted to go too and the truck was still moving.

The York fair grounds has a huge iron fence around it. As soon as our kids were old enough, they were allowed to go anywhere as long as they did not go thru a iron gate. We always parked at the same location so year after year, they knew where the truck was and where they could go. They had a favorite toy dealer they visited and made their purchases. Then they came back to the truck area and searched out their train buds. Kids are magic- several met each year and they all knew who was supposed to bring the soccer ball, and who to bring the Frisbee, etc. They always had train friends to meet each York.

The TCA organization has been good for me. I have published many articles in their monthly magazine and done much recruiting for them. I an currently on their standards committee and am Vice President of the Eastern Division. I give presentations regularly and work as a repair man at some of the shows. We call our selves ďThe Loco DoctorsĒ and ever once in a while, someone asks if we know the meaning of Loco-I do and we are.

I have never seen a train I didnít like or missed a story connected with this wonderful hobby. Sandy and I have been everywhere and met many interesting and special people because of the silly trains. So you can see trains and me are integral and what a ride it is.

Clem Clement
TCA 64-987


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