World's Largest American Flyer Model Train Exhibit Honors Father's and Son's Love of Trains
LANCASTER, Pa. — Ask a typical 10-year-old boy what he’d like for Christmas this year, and he might say he wants a Kindle Fire, or a Nintendo 3DS. For many decades prior to the digital era, though, an electric train set ranked high on a Christmas wish list for a boy that age.
Bob Board remembers those days. “A 30- to 60-foot train set was a desired gift for kids,” he said.
Board was one of those kids who inspired his father, Bartholomew “Bart” Board, to set up a public holiday train display in his shop, Bart’s Pneumatics, in 1977. Every major department store had a Christmas train exhibit then, said Bob, adding that department stores also sold Lionel brand model trains.
“It was dad’s wish for children to see (an extensive track of assorted trains and accessories) around the holiday season,” Bob said.
Bart Board passed away two years after setting up the public train display, in 1979, but Bob and his mother, Catherine Board, continued to run the train set every year since then in Bart’s memory. Since Catherine’s passing in 1999, Bob has been the sole engineer — with some part-time seasonal help from two or three train enthusiasts — of the display, called “All Aboard Railroad.”
According to the company’s website, Bart’s Pneumatics — initially called Bart’s Repair and Service when Bart started the business in 1945 — serviced, repaired and remodeled hydraulic jacks and air compressors and electric motors. Bart’s business also sold and repaired electric motors and appliances and American Flyer brand model trains.
Already supplied with proper equipment, building the train set 36 years ago wasn’t too costly an addition. Entrance-fee profits were donated to charities. Bart’s Pneumatics housed the 24-by-26-foot display.
Today, at 24-by-46-1/2 feet, “All Aboard Railroad” is one of the largest public American Flyer model train displays in the world, according to Bob Board. He said that train enthusiasts from all over — American Flyer clubs throughout the country, people from New York, Canada, even the Amish — visit the exhibit.
“They’re fascinated (by how everything) works,” he said of the young Amish boys who visit.
Seventy-two switches control the entire set. Every half hour, the store lights are turned off for a few minutes, allowing the exhibit’s 800 miniature lights to shine brightly.
The 100-amp electric service the train set runs on has the power equivalent of a family house, he said. “(The display) conducts lots of heat,” he said, pointing out that it runs more efficiently on colder days.
Up to 20 trains at once — out of a total train count of nearly 250 — transit through tunnels, over bridges and past a small-scale model community complete with a carnival, construction site, churches, housing developments, trees and shrubs and parked cars.
Board had collected the slightly larger-than-to-scale cars from cereal boxes during the 1950s. He recalled, with a laugh, eating cereal he didn’t like, just for the cars inside its boxes.
More than 2,010 feet of track meanders through and around the display’s three levels.
A gentleman who has regularly been visiting All Aboard’s seasonal display nearly since its conception pointed out that the track runs on two rails. This was a new development from the three-rail track on which American Flyer model trains ran before World War II.
Board said that the war was the turning point from three rails to two, when A.C. Gilbert, then the owner of American Flyer, mass-produced model trains soon after the American Railroad Association developed the “S” scale train, designed to run on two rails. Board said that the model “S” train is scaled down from a 64-foot actual-sized train.
Also on display and for sale are “O” and “HO” gauge trains. Board explained that Lionel trains are built on the “O” gauge, scaled down from a 43-foot or 48-foot train. “HO” scaled trains are half the size of “O” gauge trains, said Board, explaining that the model trains once decorating department stores were built on this European-style model.
While today, modern technology has made it more difficult to keep boys’ interest in toy trains once they outgrow Thomas the Tank Engine, the children who visit “All Aboard Railroad” seem fascinated with the set and how it works with all the wiring and electronics, Board said.
“It teaches them how to build, how to think,” he said.
The All Aboard train exhibit is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23 and daily Dec. 26-31, from 1-4 p.m. For more information, contact Bob Board at 717-392-1568 or rboard<\@>bartspneumatics.com.