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Prototype, Model trains, and American Flyer. Photos, Clip art and more...

I like trains of all sizes

BNSF at_LaJunta, Co.

I have been a train nut ever since I received my first American Flyer toy train at age four.  When I was almost eight years old my family moved near to Butler, Kentucky .  At that time the Louisville & Nashville Railroad had a double track main line and a depot at the edge of  town.  I ran a paper route in town and would try to arrange it so that I would be near the depot area when the local passenger train was due.  I have many happy memories of trains that I would like to share in these pages.

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My Train Stories

About Bill Johnson

American Flyer Sign
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My Train Stories

The Local Train

My first train ride into Cincinnati, Ohio from Butler, Kentucky was behind a steam locomotive.  My mother, my sister and I climbed aboard and took our seats.  This was a very good idea because when a steam locomotive gets under way it starts with a lurch and if one isn't seated or have a good grip on something he or she is likely to fall.  Once it got started it seemed to move quite fast  between the small wayside stops that it made.  I can still remember how excited that I was as I watched the scenery pass by.

I think every boy or girl who had a toy train layout placed a tunnel along the route.  I wasn't disappointed with the prototype either.  Just before the route crossed the bridge into Cincinnati it went through a tunnel.  The train crew turned on the lights inside the coaches but, every thing beyond the windows was pitch black dark.  From that point the route crossed the Ohio River and straight into Cincinnati's Union Terminal.

The diesel-electric locomotives that we rode behind on later trips started more smoothly, and had colorful paint schemes, but I think I shall always have a romantic spot in my heart for the steam locomotive because of the raw power that it projects.


American Flyer had an action accessory that was a mail car that would toss a plastic mail bag out of the car as it snatched  one from a post mounted beside the track when a button was pushed.. 

I was privileged to watch the prototype in action and most of the time it worked well.  However,  one evening as I was delivering news papers on the street next to the tracks, a south bound express train went by and the man operating the catch arm knocked the bag off the post but failed to swing it into the car.  The bag fell to the ground and was drawn under the wheels of the following coaches which ripped the bag open.  I have never seen mail fly so far and so fast before or since.  Some of the mail actually flew up higher than the train.  It scattered so far that I doubt that they ever did find all of it.

The depot agent was a paper customer of mine, so I reported the incident to him.  This was the first time that I became involved with mail other than my family's.  As I mentioned in other places on my personal site, I now work for the U. S. Postal Service.

Arriving or Leaving

It may seem hard to believe for the under 50 set that there was ever a time when families did not own a television set and it was not the center of family entertainment.  For those who remember the show "The Waltons", you may remember the family gathering around the radio to listen to the news, drama or a "man on the street"  interview show.

On one of those trips that I wrote about above, my father was waiting for us at Union Terminal after he had spent all day at work.  From what I have read recently about Union Terminal, the seating wasn't standard bench seating that was found in most train stations of that era, but was quite comfortable.  My father was working a lot of overtime at that time and if he found a comfortable spot to sit, he would drop off into a nap almost immediately.

The MC of this man on the street interview program stuck his microphone in front of my father and asked him if he was arriving or leaving.  This awoke him in a state of confusion, not even sure for a moment where he was and from all reports it was quite funny. Some of the neighbors around where  we lived that were tuned in kidded him about it for some time after that.  After a few moments he woke up enough to identify himself and state that he was waiting for us to arrive so that we could attend a children's Christmas party at the factory where he worked.

Caught On The Tracks

One weekend afternoon in late summer of 1961, my Father, myself and a group of men from the church that we attended went to a men's retreat at one of the church member's camp. The camp was located on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River near Silver Grove, Kentucky. It is a good thing that my Father was not the faint hearted type, because he received two good scares that day.

I was responsible for the first scare. The previous year when I left home to enter the United States Air Force, I was basically a non-swimmer. Most of the first year that I was in the USAF I was stationed at Keesler AFB, MS for training. At that time, the class room buildings were the few places on base that were air conditioned. I had morning classes so the best way to beat the afternoon heat was to go to the swimming pool. I worked hard to learn swimming skills that to this point I had trouble mastering. Soon the life guards took notice of my efforts and began to give me tips and encouragement. My Father was unaware of my newly acquired skills. Our family doctor, DR Anderson, had a camp next store to the camp that we were visiting. Doctor Anderson had a boat and was about to escort someone from his camp who was going to swim across the river which was about a half mile wide at this point. This represented a real challenge to me so I asked for permission to join them. Dad panicked until I explained that I was going with the good doctor. It was OK then. The trip was successful and that was my first open water conquest and Dad was proud of me.

The second scare that my Father received, scared all of us that were in the car as we left camp. The road from the camp was a single lane country road that approached a grade crossing of the Chesapeake and Ohio main line that followed the Kentucky shore of the Ohio River. Immediately after one crossed the tracks you had to make a sharp left turn and climb a steep grade to the highway above the tracks. My Father and I had accepted a ride to the retreat with Mr. Fred Wilson who was also a Railway Postal employee and was familiar with railroad procedures. The reason we were riding with Mr. Wilson was that he had a brand new '62 Chevrolet four door sedan that he wanted to show off. The trouble started when Mr. Wilson cut the left hand corner too short and the left rear wheel dropped off of the road and became stuck between the rails of the track. We barely had time to realize the trouble that we were in when we heard the roar of an approaching multiunit diesel locomotive pulling a long string of cars that was bearing down on us. I exited the car and started up the track to flag the train when Mr. Wilson called me back and said, "Here, take a flare!" I had trained in cross country track in high school, so I took the flare and started up the track toward the train as fast as I could go, swinging the flare back and forth in the prescribed manner. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. The train's engineer throttled those locomotives from a full roar to a whimper in a matter of seconds which was then followed by the squeal of brakes. The train came to a halt more than a hundred yards from the car. Two or three of the train's crewmen climbed down from the locomotive and helped us lift the rear end of the car back on the road. After the car was back on the road, we thanked them for stopping and they said that they were glad that they could stop and that they would rather stop the train than to hit the car.

The Turbo Train

In the mid 1980's Amtrak operated a train that had gas turbine engines at each end of the train.  The operation of the train was very smooth and enjoyable.  My wife, our children and I took a trip on it between Rochester NY and Utica, NY to attend a wedding.

The Jolly Engineer

Almost all of the L&N train crews were friendly and if you waved to them as they passed, they would wave back.  At least once when I arrived at track side, an engineer who must have liked children tossed candy down from the cab of his steam locomotive while the train was  waiting to be loaded.


One summer when I had my paper route there were two coal train wrecks within two weeks of each other.  The first wreck happened about a mile south of Butler and the second one occurred about a mile north of town.  The wrecks were caused by a hot box on  an axle of one of the coal cars.

The town was quite fortunate the second time as there were scour marks on the cross ties right in the middle of town where the truck had sagged and gouged the ties.  Some of the buildings and houses were close enough to the tracks to  have been wiped out.   Some forty cars were destroyed and it was rumored that a hobo was riding that train, but a body was not found.

Being the young entrepreneur that I was, both times I took all of my spare newspapers out to the wreck sites.  I shouted, "Read all about the work that you are doing!"  Within a short time I sold all of my extra newspapers each of the three or four days that the crews were at each site.

At the second wreck I managed to strike up a conversation with an engineer of one of the diesel locomotives during a pause in the action and got an invitation to come up in the cab where he showed me all of the controls and described how they were used.  I also got an invitation into the cab of one of the steam powered wrecker cranes.  I was in Heaven!  I don't know whether those men broke any rules or not, but I am sure that such actions could not be repeated now.  I will always be grateful for their kindness.

Choo-Choo, Whoo-Whoo

As I stated in the introduction paragraph of this site, I was crazy about trains. My Father would take great delight in teasing me about my fascination with trains. Often when we were traveling, if he saw a train while he was driving, he would call out "Choo-choo, whoo-whoo!". My reaction was totally predictable. Even at night, sometimes to my Mother's chagrin, when I was in as sound of a sleep as one can get while riding in an automobile of the 1950's vintage, I would instantly wake up and say, "Where, where?!" One time he played a trick on me. We were traveling along a road next to a railroad track when he called out "Choo-choo, whoo-whoo!" and I responded in the usual way but there wasn't a train in sight. He then quoted the old joke when he said, "I don't know where but it left its tracks". I said, "Ha, ha, very funny!" or something like that.