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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Trainville: 1929

Trainville: 1929

August 5, 1929. Washington, D.C. "Miniature RR of John N. Swartzell." Our fourth look at the Swartzell rail empire. National Photo glass negative. View full size.

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I see someone has been cow tipping. I wonder which one of the naughty plastic people did it?

Train Conductor

Yes, that is the "third rail." I didn't have to be an actual rail -- simply a metal electrical conductor. Pickup was by a roller, wiper or bar rubbing on the wire. In fact, Maerklin of Germany used a series of black "studs" which were very nearly invisible.

I have been a model railroader for over 55 years. I cannot imagine that much dust on any of my layouts. Can't see how he kept them running.

Attention to Detail

Notice the bank of miniature throw levers to operate the switches. Today you would just use push buttons, but these copies of the full sized units are so much more elegant.

The center wire

Obviously the center wire is there for this purpose, as in Lionel setups. What other purpose could it serve? The sidings however, have no center conductor, so I imagine he used these as stationary rolling stock positions and moved the engines and cars by hand. There was a railroad maneuver whereby the engine released a rolling car to go into a siding under its own momentum. Perhaps another Shorpy railfan knows the name of this technique.

Men at Work

A colleague once told me that never in history has a model railroad ever been finished. Mr. Swartzell is doubtless pondering the next phase of construction and that's why he's not smiling.

Ground beef

It looks like something knocked over the cows on the bottom right. Maybe those dogs barking at the nearby horse cart began by attacking the cattle?


Those two boys look like they are having such fun! All smiles!!

Third rail

This shot gives an interesting hint about the third rail question, mentioned on some of the other shots. While there doesn't seem to be an actual center rail on the tracks, there does seem to be a wire down the middle of some sort. Do you suppose this wire operates the same as a Lionel central rail, to provide power? Very interesting.

And regarding Mr. S's serious expression, "model railroading" is a SERIOUS activity. Don't call them toy trains! Toy trains are a whole different kettle of fish!

"Should have dusted it"

Is what Mr. Swartzell (or the Missus) would have thought. I like the fallen-over cow at bottom right.

Is that his dad?

The man who insisted John give up trains for real estate?

John Swartzell isn't smiling in any of these photos. Is it because his dreams of train engineering have been reduced to model train construction?

Beyond Imagination

I can only wonder what Mr.Swartzell would have thought if he was told his model railroad would be admired by thousands of people all over the world in the next century.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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