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American Dreamer: 1942

June 1942. "Greenbelt, Maryland. Child's bedroom in which a 13-year-old boy has rigged up model trains and a chemical laboratory." Johnny's next project: Discover girls. Photo by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information. View full size.

June 1942. "Greenbelt, Maryland. Child's bedroom in which a 13-year-old boy has rigged up model trains and a chemical laboratory." Johnny's next project: Discover girls. Photo by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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American Flyer

Little doubt the trains are Gilbert American Flyer HO scale, early variety with metal roadbed and metal cars. The coupler on the caboose (and the caboose type) also is a match.

Not a ladder

The crank-out windows are both open. Only the one on the right is visible in the picture. See the picture posted earlier in this thread for a view of the closed windows from the outside.

Gilbert HO scale

Here is a website that has old Gilbert train catalogs:
The prewar HO scale did have built-in roadbeds for the track, similar to today's Bachmann EZ Track. It also looks like the track was screwed or bolted to the wooden table.

Properly He Quipped

The handy ladder just outside the window should make getting to his next discovery a lot easier.

Serious, yes, but ...

Probably not hand-laid track. Looks like commercial turnouts and sectional track - note the screws at fixed intervals.

The Kid Is Serious

As a model railroader and National Model Railroad Association member, I'm impressed. This kid has talent. He's not into "tinplate" -- what we refer to trains made primarily as toys, like Lionel, versus scale modeling like the kid has here.

Those are some nice building kits he's assembled. The track looks like it might be handlaid, because they didn't make "snap track" back then. And he wisely chose HO two-rail, a better system for scale track than Lionel's 3-rail and a much finer appearance than most commercial ready to use track that wouldn't be at least that nice until the 1970s.

I love it, especially having spent a few nights as a houseguest in one of those Greenbelt townhomes.

Same setup, 70 years later

Clearly a budding terrorist: A bomb-making laboratory and a model of critical domestic infrastructure! Bring in SWAT, Hazmat, and the FBI. Short-track to Gitmo!

Gauge vs. Scale

DoctorK is correct about Gilbert American flyer being 3/16" S-scale and Dave's posted ad references prewar 3/16" scale trains that ran on O-Gauge Track. The train set pictured is in fact HO gauge by Gilbert. Gilbert, after purchasing the American Flyer brand, sold trains that were 3/16" to the foot scale but ran on O-Gauge (1/4" to the foot) track prior to WWII. Following the war the track became S-Gauge 3/16" Scale. Gilbert was also a pioneer of early HO Gauge 1:87 scale or roughly 1/8" to the foot scale or "Half O" thus "HO" (what is shown in the photo). There was also 00 gauge common at this time, which Lionel was marketing as a competitor to HO.

Hard to gauge

The size looks to me like the "S" Gauge that I grew up with, but at least one source I found said that American Flyer (AC Gilbert) did not bring out the "S" gauge until 1946. It really looks too big for HO, too small for "O" (also Lionel O gauge as far as I know were all three rail systems). Anybody to resolve the question?

[American Flyer was selling 3/16" (1:64, or S-scale) trains in the 1930s. Below, an ad for AF 3/16" scale trains from 1942. - Dave]

Greenbelt Houses

Exterior view from 1936. Later designs had a pitched roof. Click to enlarge.

Greenbelt Boy

I lived in Greenbelt from 1948 to 1951, and I had a bedroom that looked just like that, although I lived in the so-called "defense housing," that was built, I believe, right after the war. And I also had an electric train then.

A.C. Gilbert – prewar HO gauge

An impressive setup for the time. I believe that the train set was manufactured by A. C. Gilbert (American Flyer) in HO gauge. The engine was modeled after the New York Central J3 Hudson.

Steel casements

Our house in Bethesda, circa 1939/40, had steel windows like that. Nice train set, American Flyer, HO gauge? Has to be a good sized room to get all his stuff in there.

Rainy childhood days long past

This strikes a chord as I remember these days; listening to the radio - Car race.. Baseball game - playing quietly in my bedroom.. Model trains, etc. But not for kids today, for them, this was all to be replaced by TV and X-Box.

Interesting Train Set

In the 50s, I had a Lionel set and in the 60s switched to HO. This train looks to be somewhere in between size wise. I'm not a model train expert. Maybe someone else can enlighten me.

Windows 41

The house I grew up in when I was a kid was built in 1941. The original windows had a "crank out" design very similar to those shown in this image

Brilliance guaranteed

Judging by this boy's interesting variety of toys, I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that he became a very smart, sharp, well-informed adult with knowledge in many different subjects, plus he was not addicted to electronic video games to distract him from real life.

As-best-os I can tell

As best as I can tell, that's an asbestos flame spreader/heat dissapator on the top of the lab tripod. I remember dozens of those from my high school and college chemestry classes, but I'm sure they're prohibited today.

The latest and best

Greenbelt was a New Deal planned community that would have been only a few years old at the time of this picture. Chances are good that the houses would have had the newest technologies and accessories, such as the crank-out windows.


Look at that beautiful model train in all its HO gauge splendor! Back in the days when metal cars were modeled in metal and wood in wood. No fakey plastic here.

Girls Have Cooties!

Who needs girls? He's got a) a cool model railroad layout, b) a chemistry set, c) a pirate poster, and d) a radio. And is that a railroad lantern rigged up as a reading lamp? Enjoy your bachelorhood while you can, Opie lookalike!

Also: Those windows sure look newer than 1942. I didn't realize they had modern crank-out sashes like that back then.

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