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Light Rail: 1905

Light Rail: 1905

New York circa 1905. "Miniature railway, Coney Island." All aboard! 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Cagney Engine

She's a beauty. Cagney live steam locomotives of this type owe their styling to the superb New York Central & Hudson River Railroad 4-4-0s designed by William Buchanan.

The most famous of the Buchanan NYC&HR 4-4-0s was No. 999, which set an unofficial land speed record (unofficially) of 112.5 mph. We can assume this tiny wonder, though, seldom eked out more than about 10-15mph at any time.

Those great little incandescent cluster-light fixtures are baby versions of the even more wowing electroliers inside the passenger concourse ramps at New York's Grand Central Terminal, the former home of the late, great New York Central Railroad.


It would be a great photograph if the man to the right of the train had just gotten his foot run over and he was hopping up and down holding his foot and shouting Oweee!

Live steam

This is a amusement park train that was common at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. One of the major manufactures of these trains was company from New York called Cagney. Most were built to 16 in gauge or smaller. Some of these locos are still used at different rail parks around the country.

Also several National Expositions had live steam trains as part of the exhibits. Very popular during this period. Today live steam clubs build and operate steam operated train parks for members. This hobby is for people who are interested in machine tools and assembly of locos from kits or from scratch.

Steaming in a different place

We have a great little steam club near Edinburg, Indiana. They have steam and gas trains about the same size that you can ride on.

Great fun.

For the Young, or Young at Heart

It is interesting to note the ages of those riding the train. Only two "kids" (2nd car, first row) can be seen, but I suppose they are all kids at heart. The majority of riders are male, illustrating the draw of train to guys, even when it is done in miniature.

It's more fun than it seems

My father built model steam locos like these as a hobby, so I spent much of my youth driving them. It's not as dull as it looks. They're like aircraft: the smaller they get, the more challenging they are to operate. Keep the fire stoked and the boiler level up, make sure there's water in the tank and that everything is well lubricated - things can happen quickly. And there were always some boys between the age of 5 and 95 looking on enviously.

Oh, and they're not made of brass. They're mostly cast iron and steel, with some brass fittings and embellishments.

I fine bunch of swells

All of them hurrying to go nowhere. Someone needs to tell the man in the second row that there's no smoking allowed on the train.

Conspicuous lack

There is a lack of children on board. I only see a couple. I have seen miniature trains before at amusement parks and our local zoo, and they're definitely billed as children's attractions. I think a lone adult would be viewed as a little off.

The Engine

How were these miniature engines powered? It seems like the fake coal car could house batteries but could an electric engine really haul three passenger cars (at least) with eight people in each?

[These miniature locomotives were powered like the big ones, by live steam heated in a coal-fired boiler. The engineer rode with his feet in the coal box of the tender, which also carried 15 gallons of water for the boiler in a tank under the seat. - Dave]

Early Sputnik Design

The light fixtures were some fifty years ahead of their time.

I've been working on the Railroad

That locomotive is quite spectacular. I'll bet it was made of brass. The expression on the face of the "engineer" seems to say "I've see the same half mile of amusement park 20 times a day for the last 4 years. Somebody please shoot me."

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